When most everyone suspected US president George W Bush was determined to launch a military attack on Iraq in late 2002/early 2003 and the official White House line was still “no final decision has been made,” tell tale signs of an imminent invasion began to appear. Charities that knew the region and the issue of refugees were asked by high level US army officials to provide analysis on how to prepare for such human tragedy. Similar signs are appearing about the imminent invasion of international oil companies who have signed oil deals to help develop Iraq’s massive, but dilapidated oil fields.
Rigs are being sought, service industries are popping up to provide hard wear to the companies, lists of necessary equipment are being drawn up and plans to train thousands of Iraqi engineers are being made.
Industry folks are guessing Iraq will need 1500 rigs, compared to the few dozen in the country today. BP may pull about six rigs from Egypt, while other companies are making arrangements to transport them in from elsewhere in the region and beyond.
But it is clear that new rigs will have to be built and that many of them will likely be Chinese, despite some concerns about safety and reliability. BP has already said that it will source much of its equipment from China given that its partner in the development of the giant Rumaila field is CNPC, the country’s biggest national oil company.
Oil companies will bring in some of their own staff, but much of the manpower will have to be Iraqi, both because of the security risk and also because Iraq needs – and will insist – that the industry become a major employer in a country with too many idle workers.
Iraq is well known for its smart engineers, but has lost almost a generation to war and sanctions. Many of the hugely inventive and skilled folks who kept Iraq’s oil industry running with “stickytape and bubblegum” during the lean years of UN sanctions, are now growing old and their sons (and hopefully daughters) will need to be trained and updated on the advances the industry has made in the past decade.
So, will Iraq massively boost its production? No-one knows. There are just too many unknowns, especially ahead of the March elections. But at least one of those unknowns can be struck off the list. The industry is indeed serious about beginning work in Iraq and companies are not procrastinating to see whether the security situation will improve or the political landscape is about to change. Instead they are mobilising as speedily as they can and as quickly Iraq’s cumbersome and broken bureaucratic system can allow.