By Missy Ryan
Iraqâ€™s President Jalal Talabani (Center L) and Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim (Center R) salute as they review troops during the Iraqi Army Dayâ€™s 89th anniversary celebration, in Baghdad January 6, 2010.
BAGHDAD, Jan 5 (Reuters) – Iraqâ€™s cabinet has ratified contracts with foreign firms to develop four oilfields, pushing Iraq a step closer toward finalising deals that may make it a leading world oil producer, the government said on Tuesday.
â€œThe cabinet has ratified four oilfields: Majnoon, Gharaf, and in Nineveh province Qayara and al-Najmah,â€ government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
Last month, the Iraqi Oil Ministry initialled service contracts with seven foreign consortia to develop fields including supergiant Majnoon, which was awarded to Royal Dutch Shell and Malaysiaâ€™s Petronas in a December energy auction.
The firms, part of a long-awaited wave of foreign investment in Iraqâ€™s promising oil sector, must now sign final deals before they can begin work.
The deals represent a mainstay of Iraqâ€™s ambitions to transform its underperforming oil sector and bring output capacity to 12 million barrels per day (bpd), a huge increase from output now of around 2.5 million bpd.
The deals ratified on Tuesday were offered to foreign firms at a Dec. 11-12 energy auction, Iraqâ€™s second this year.
Royal Dutch Shell, Europeâ€™s largest oil company, and Petronas won the rights to Majnoon, a major field near the southern oil hub of Basra.
Majnoon, whose reserves of 12.6 billion barrels make it one of the worldâ€™s largest untapped fields, was one of the prizes on the block in that auction.
After a more tepid showing in an initial auction in June, Iraqi oil officials hailed the December auction as a major success. Gharaf, a smaller oilfield with 900 million in reserves, went to Petronas and the Japan Petroleum Exploration Co (Japex).
Qayara and Najmah, located in Iraqâ€™s restive north, were both won by Angolan state oil firm Sonangol.
The 800-million-barrel Qayara field is south of Nineveh provinceâ€™s capital Mosul, while nearby Najmah has around 900 million barrels.
There are three deals from Iraqâ€™s second bidding round that must still be ratified, including Halfaya, which was won by China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), Total and Petronas. Halfaya, in southern Iraq, has estimated reserves of 4.1 billion barrels.
Badrah, a 100 million barrel reservoir, is another. Badrah went to Russiaâ€™s Gazprom, Turkeyâ€™s TPAO, Kogas and Petronas.
Last but not least is West Qurna Phase Two, which was won by Russiaâ€™s Lukoil and Norwayâ€™s Statoil. The supergiant field has reserves of 12.9 billion barrel.
After the deals were initialled, the government said it was seeking a number of technical or operational amendments to the contracts.
â€œSonangol was the first company to accept the proposed amendments followed by the other companies whose contracts were approved today by the cabinet,â€ said Sabah Abdul Kadhim, head of the legal and commercial section of the Petroleum Contracts and Licensing Directorate.
He said responses from the other companies were expected by Thursday. (Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; editing by James Jukwey)