Iraqi oil-reserve potential ‘could exceed’ Saudi Arabia’s

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Taking part in a panel discussion on the second day of the SALT conference in Abu Dhabi (second from left to right): Majid Jafar, Crescent Petroleum’s CEO, R. J. Johnston, executive adviser and managing director for global energy and natural resources at Eurasia Group, Francisco Blanch, global head of commodities research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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The discussion took place on the second day of the SALT conference in Abu Dhabi. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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The discussion took place on the second day of the SALT conference in Abu Dhabi. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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The discussion took place on the second day of the SALT conference in Abu Dhabi. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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The discussion took place on the second day of the SALT conference in Abu Dhabi. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 12 December 2019

Iraqi oil-reserve potential ‘could exceed’ Saudi Arabia’s

  • Crescent Petroleum’s CEO Majid Jafar told SALT conference Iraq's production has risen despite obstacles
  • 'Improving investment climate for private sector essential' to utilize Iraq's full energy-sector potential

ABU DHABI: Iraq’s oil reserves had the potential to exceed those of Saudi Arabia, a top Middle East energy company chief has told the region’s first SALT conference.

In spite of years of corruption, a lack of infrastructure, and the five-year war on Daesh in Iraq, the country had managed to increase its production of oil from 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to 5 million, Crescent Petroleum’s CEO Majid Jafar revealed.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi on a panel session discussing power dynamics in the energy sector, he addressed Iraq’s position on oil production and the US’ recent move toward energy “independence.”

Referring to the rate of Iraq’s oil production today, he said: “This gives you some indication of the reserve potential in Iraq, which I believe can exceed Saudi Arabia’s.” And he added that parts of the country still remained “unexplored.”

To utilize the country’s full potential in the energy sector, he believed that improving the investment climate for the private sector was essential.

Jafar said this could be achieved by addressing the demands voiced in recent protests lead by Iraq’s youth, adding that “young people have had enough.”

Among their demands were the need for better services, electricity, employment opportunities and a governing system free of corruption and sectarian politics.

Yet, despite the instability, Crescent Petroleum was still optimistic. “As a group, we have invested $3 billion (SR11.25 billion) over the last 10 years, and the rate of investment is increasing going forward.”

Jafar pointed to the Middle East and North Africa region’s steep oil wealth, implying that more could be done to raise competition in the global energy market. He cited new reforms, such as Saudi Aramco’s partnership with the private sector, as a step in the right direction, considering that the region was home to five of the top 10 oil-producing countries.

However, he highlighted that in recent times the Middle East oil and gas industry had given up a significant amount of its market share to its American counterparts.

While the US moved toward “self-sufficiency,” Jafar believed the country’s “inter-dependence” would grow.

“Being an exporter of oil, you start to worry about the markets,” he said, making a projection on the impact of recent changes on the US economy. “With the US becoming one of the biggest producers in the world, its economy in terms of overall GDP does better if the oil prices are higher, and that changes all the calculations.”

Dr. Francisco Blanch, global head of commodities research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, highlighted that while the US had become “energy independent,” investors had lost a significant amount of funds to “supply the capital to make it happen.”

Blanch’s forecast was that the US would not continue to grow at the pace it had been doing in recent years. “I think investors are waking up to realize that Shell is a marginal-cost business.”

Supporting Jafar’s observations, he agreed that the US had become more interdependent on exports and imports. He pointed out that today, the US imported 6.5 million barrels of oil, and exported 2.5 million bpd.

“I think the capital market has become more skeptical about capital being allocated to the energy sector,” said Blanch, adding that the next five to 10 years would witness a focus on technology and healthcare.

Examining the geopolitical situation in the Arab region, panelist R. J. Johnston, executive adviser and managing director for global energy and natural resources at Eurasia Group, described the energy sector as a “geopolitical-driven story.”

He cited the drone and missile attacks earlier this year on two Saudi Aramco oil sites in the Eastern Province, pointing out the disruptions in supply did not generate an expected response and impact on oil prices.

“This maybe suggests something about how the geopolitics of the region are changing. Even with sanctions on Iran and the attack against the Aramco facilities, the world is more focused on a different kind of geopolitics; more on the demand side,” said Johnston.

He also referenced the upcoming US elections as well as other problematic structural trends in the region and around the world, such as the protests seen in the Middle East, Western Europe, and Hong Kong, as factors that created uncertainty for the growth of the global market.

He added that in the age of US President Donald Trump, America was “less committed to the region” than it had been in the past, a situation that would create a new set of realities.

‘Barrier of love’: Palestinian civilians set up coronavirus checkpoints

Updated 18 min 19 sec ago

‘Barrier of love’: Palestinian civilians set up coronavirus checkpoints

EIN YABROUD, Palestine: Wearing a face mask and an orange vest while brandishing a thermometer, Palestinian Moayad Samha looks similar to the countless others manning COVID-19 checkpoints across the world.
But Samha does not work for the Palestinian Authority — he is a lawyer and one of dozens of civilians deployed along rural roads in the occupied West Bank to enforce coronavirus controls.
Some fear the civilian checkpoints will foster resentment among Palestinians, as villages with no COVID-19 cases turn away residents from places that have recorded an outbreak.
But Samha told AFP that he and others doing roadside monitoring were striving to protect the whole territory from a full-scale epidemic.
“We are trying to detect the virus as much as is possible with our limited means,” Samha said at the checkpoint in his home village of Ein Yabroud.
Following agreements with Israel in the 1990s, the Palestinian government controls major cities in the West Bank, but the Israeli army controls 60 percent of the territory.
Palestinian police cannot enter many rural villages without first coordinating with the Israelis, who can refuse permission.
Those Israeli restrictions, and chronic cash shortages faced by the Palestinian government, have hindered efforts to contain the virus.
So the Palestinian police have called on volunteers to help do the job.
The Palestinian interior ministry has approved the scheme, calling it key to containment efforts.
The West Bank, which has been under near total lockdown for weeks, has 250 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Ein Yabroud has no confirmed cases but the village of Dayr Jarir, roughly 1.5 kilometers (one mile) to the east, has several coronavirus patients.
Drivers who approached the Ein Yabroud checkpoint on Monday were all stopped.
Samha told anyone with an elevated temperature to hold their breath for 10 to 15 seconds, in an attempt to see if they cough or feel discomfort.
If someone presented possible COVID-19 symptoms, he called officials in nearby Ramallah to conduct a test.
Other volunteers checked travelers’ IDs to determine their place of origin.
People from towns or cities with many confirmed cases were turned away.
Mohammed Hawih, who is in charge of the village’s checkpoints, told AFP the procedures differed depending on the person.
“Residents of some places are allowed to stop in the village to buy things, but those from other towns and villages are not,” he said.
But he pointed out the Ein Yabroud checkpoint is called the “barrier of love” and was designed for the protection of everyone.
Hawih and others said civilian checkpoints were a response to persistent new infections in small villages and refugee camps far from main Palestinian cities.
Volunteers in different locations communicate via the Zello app, which works like a walkie-talkie.
Some villages have even produced uniforms for their civilian protectors, with checkpoint staff in Dura Al-Qara, adjacent to Ein Yabrud, wearing yellow outfits emblazoned with the village council’s name.
At the Ein Yabroud checkpoint, a key priority has been preventing the Israeli army from entering the village during patrols or raids.
There are more than 9,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Israel and Palestinians fear that troops from the Jewish state might cause further West Bank infections.
Hawih claimed to have forced soldiers to turn back by blocking their path on several occasions.
Concern has also risen about a possible surge in West Bank infections caused by the thousands of Palestinians who have returned home in recent days from jobs in Israel.
When a large truck arrived in Dura Al-Qara on Monday, the driver was told to open the rear doors. His ID and destination were checked before he was allowed to pass.
Checkpoint staff said they were on the lookout for anyone trying to sneak through the village after returning from Israel, instead of entering mandatory quarantine.
Abdul Rahman Hussein, an official at the checkpoint, said looking for returnees from Israel was a civic duty.
“Our brothers in the central government can’t reach us in this area, but if there is something urgent they come.”
So far, he said, by working with other local checkpoints, “we have caught four sick people” seeking to avoid quarantine.