London — Iraq's crude production and exports continue at full throttle despite the recent violent demonstrations in the country, but analysts said the situation bears close watching as oil fields and ports could be vulnerable to escalating protests.
Crude exports from Iraq's southern terminal on the Persian Gulf stand at 3.6 million b/d so far this month, according to a port status report Tuesday seen by S&P Global Platts. That is up from 3.45 million b/d in October, which saw two days of bad weather.
Government sources and officials with oil companies operating in Iraq said production has rebounded from a brief disruption earlier this month when protesters blocked roads that forced the shut-in of the 30,000 b/d Qayyarah field.
The country's oil ministry earlier this week reported crude production last month averaged 4.58 million b/d.
"No harm at all on production," said one source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to comment publicly. "All precautions taken."
Iraq, OPEC's second-largest producer, has seen increasing clashes between citizens and the government since October, particularly in the oil-rich southern province of Basrah. Demonstrators have demanded more economic development and jobs.
Government forces have cracked down harshly on the protests, with the death toll rising into the hundreds.
In some cases, protesters blocked roads leading to oil fields in Basrah and the Umm Qasr port, preventing trucks carrying crude and other goods from entering the facility. Citizens have also gathered at the gates of the Dhiqar Oil Company in Nassiriya and the Meessan Oil Company in Amara, among others.
"Should foreign oil and gas companies begin withdrawing non-essential personnel, oil and gas operations will have to rely predominately on local engineers and their teams, who according to local sources are increasingly joining the protest movement," analysts with Medley Global Advisors said in a recent note.
ExxonMobil, which operates the West Qurna 1 field and temporarily evacuated some of its staff from Iraq due to heightened security concerns, could not immediately be reached for comment. BP, Eni and Lukoil, also active in Iraq, also could not be reached.
Shell, which has a gas-capture program in Basrah, told Platts "there is no indication at the moment of any disruption to our operations."
A sustained closure of Umm Qasr would also present a major concern if fuel oil exports, which are transported by trucks from Iraq's central and northern refineries, are cut off. This would force the refineries to shut down due to a lack of storage space for the fuel oil, potentially creating a critical fuel shortage in the country.
Beyond the immediate concerns, instability in the government could slow down project approvals and set back Iraq's plans to boost production capacity to 8.5 million b/d by 2025.
"Bureaucratic inefficiencies will continue to slow oil infrastructure upgrades and project ramps, and possible protest-related supply disruptions cannot be entirely dismissed," Platts Analytics said in a recent note.
Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi offered to resign to quell the protests, but no agreement on an election date has been reached.
At last week's Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, Lukoil President Vagit Alekperov told reporters he was concerned about "delayed decision-making in tender procedures [and] in bidding procedures, and that extends project execution schedules."
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