Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Upstream: production, reserves and exploration

Major fields and infrastructure in Iraq. Source: IEA.
Map 2. Major fields and infrastructure in Iraq. Source: IEA. Click to enlarge.

Iraq revised its estimate of proven oil reserves from 115 billion barrels (bbbl) in 2011 to 141bbbl as of 1 January 2013, according to the Oil and Gas Journal. The new reserve estimate gives Iraq the fifth-largest proven oil reserves in the world and the third-largest conventional proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia and Iran.

According to data from the Ministry of Oil, Iraq’s proven reserves are located in 66 fields, with total technically recoverable oil in these fields exceeding 500bbbl.

Among the 66 known oilfields, only 20 are currently producing. Included in these fields are several – exceptionally rare – super-giant fields:


  • West Qurna (43bbbl reserves, south)
  • Rumaila (17.3bbbl reserves, south)
  • Majnoon (12bbbl reserves, south)
  • Kirkuk (9bbbl reserves, north)
  • East Baghdad (8bbbl reserves, central)
  • Nahr Umr (6bbbl reserves, south)
  • Halfaya (nearly a super-giant, with reserves of 4.1bbbl, south)
  • Zubair (nearly a super-giant, with reserves of 4bbbl, south)
  • Jeddah (Saudi Aramco) 85,000bpd

The Rumaila field, located in south-eastern Iraq (Basra Governorate), is the largest active field in the country, producing some 1.3mbpd in 2012. West Qurna, Zubair and Kirkuk (located in the north) are also significant contributors. Rumaila, West Qurna, Zubair, Majnoon and Nahr Umr, all concentrated in the Shia-majority south-east of the country, account for 60% of Iraq’s total proven reserves.

The southern fields are all within easy reach of coastal export facilities, keeping the primary export pipelines relatively short (Map 2). Such proximity to an international port is an important consideration, not only for getting the crude to market but also for bringing in equipment, in this case via the Shatt al-Arab waterway that runs up from the Gulf to beyond Basra. This ease of access is in marked contrast to the logistical difficulty of bringing heavy equipment into many other parts of the world, for example, the Caspian region and northern Russia.

The super-giant fields being developed in the south are some of the largest in the world, bringing large economies of scale to their exploitation. Moreover, the geology is less complicated than that of major projects elsewhere in the world, for example the Kashagan field in Kazakhstan, where the reservoir is deep and at very high pressure, or deepwater pre-salt developments in offshore Brazil. Iraq’s fields are all onshore and are often, as in the case of the fields around Basra, located in relatively unpopulated and flat terrain, reducing the costs of wells, pipelines and other facilities.

Northern Iraq is dominated by the super-giant Kirkuk field and those fields falling within the jurisdiction of the KRG. The KRG has stated that oil resources in the region amount to 45bbbl and, because of favourable contract terms, are of interest to many foreign operators.

There are currently five fields producing under contracts awarded by the KRG: Tawke, Taq Taq, the Khurmala dome of the Kirkuk field, Shaikan (in early production) and the Khor Mor gas field, which produces condensates (Map 3). These are liquids or liquids under pressure (propane, butane, etc.) that are produced at gas wells.

Iraq’s largest reserves are located in the south, near the Persian Gulf, and in the north, near the city of Kirkuk, but there are smaller fields in other parts of the country, with the exception of Anbar province, in the west. As the largest production commitments were volunteered by international companies during the licensing rounds and subsequently incorporated into binding technical-service contracts, the Ministry of Oil has good reason to expect a large increase in production capacity from fields covered by technical-services contracts alone.