Oil seeps across Kurdistan have intrigued geologists for a century, but exploration was oppressively prevented by past Iraqi regimes that feared the development of Kurdish wealth. There was little doubt that abundant reserves existed under the rolling hills and mountainous landscape, but it was not until the liberation of Iraq in 2003 from the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein that Kurdistan would embark on a journey that has landed it as the oil exploration capital of the world.
Reserve estimates, even in these early days of exploration, are impressive with 45 billion barrels of oil and an estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That level of oil secures Kurdistan eighth place on the list of world oil reserves in comparison with Russia, Libya, and Nigeria. The gas resources are equal to three percent of total known natural gas in the world. These resource numbers are unparalleled in the emerging market energy world and have put Kurdistan on the map as an oil and gas destination.
Having resources is a blessing, but prudently developing and stewarding resources has proven challenging throughout the world. The optimism of a new era in Iraq after 2003 was quickly forgotten as the state descended into strife. The Kurds secured their territory and defined a development plan taking advantage of the newfound freedoms fought for in Iraq. One pillar of the plan was energy development with a firm focus on ensuring a bright future for its people and guarding against any ambitions of any future Iraqi regime to use resources for destruction.
The Oil and Gas Law of the Kurdistan Region structures the basis for investment and management of the hydrocarbons in the Region. It is brought to life by a model Production Sharing Agreement that balances the risks and rewards of developing oil and gas in an emerging market. Companies from the Americas, Europe, and Asia rushed to Kurdistan to find oil, and oil they found. As resources have been derisked, a wave of consolidation has gripped the Region with super major oil companies arriving and calling Kurdistan home. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total, and Gazprom Neft all have multiple concessions in Kurdistan today.
Land is sacred for the Kurds, and the people feel connected to the resources bound beneath the land. The Kurdistan Regional Government maintains a robust program, funded by a share of the oil companies profits, aimed at developing strategic infrastructure, upgrading health and education services, training and equipping the next generation for new economic opportunities, and compensating the victims of previous horrors. Recently, the government announced that it would present legislation to the Kurdistan Regional Parliament that would set aside oil and gas profits for direct distribution to the families of the Region. This citizen-minded model has been successfully implemented in Norway and in the United States in Alaska, yet is not practiced in more closed markets.
Localization of human resources and supply of goods and services is an essential element of the oil and gas sector development program in Kurdistan. Previous Iraqi regimes barred Kurds from senior oil and gas posts and limited Kurds ambitions in energy disciplines. In contrast, the Ministry of Natural Resources has a strategic plan for 90+ percent localization, and companies are embracing this model. New faculties at universities are preparing the first cadres of Kurdish petroleum engineers and technical schools are teaching tradecrafts specific for the energy industry.
Having abundant resources and producing them efficiently and effectively means little if there is no way to market them in the energy markets of the world. The Kurds have developed multiple markets to secure the ability to monetize their natural resources.
The local market for oil and gas in Kurdistan has developed rapidly and with priority. Two major, private sector refineries have been built and supply the Region with gasoline for automobiles, diesel for industry and power generation, kerosene for heating fuel, jet fuel for the new airports, and LPG for cooking fuel. The gasoline produced in Kurdistan with Kurdish oil is the first unleaded, high-octane gasoline in the Iraqi Republic. The Kurds are self-sufficient in refined products and with sound policy have promoted a private sector investment approach to refining that costs the government nothing in capital expenditures.
Gas is produced in Kurdistan and delivered to three major power plants throughout Kurdistan. The plants vaulted Kurdistan from six or less hours of power a day to full coverage for its citizens. All the while, the government driven power sector in the rest of Iraq continues to lag and fails to deliver stable power to the people. With excess generation capacity in Kurdistan, the Kurds have helped to fill gaps in electricity availability in surrounding provinces.
After satisfying the local demand for oil and gas, the Kurds have looked outward to deliver their resources to world markets. A new oil export pipeline system is designated for completion by the end of the year and will tie to an existing pipeline system in Turkey that carries oil to the Mediterranean Sea coast and onward to refineries around the globe. As world oil supplies ebb and flow with regional political and security games, the Kurds are making their mark by adding to overall worldwide energy supply and security.
Gas feeds economies and industrial development, and Kurdistan has a strategic plan for delivering gas to Turkey and beyond. Since Turkey has little domestically produced gas, it imports from Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Kurdistan signed a bilateral energy agreement with Turkey and that agreement paves the way for gas from Kurdistan to supply the Turkish market. An export gas pipeline system in Kurdistan is currently under development, and an extension of the Turkish gas pipeline grid to the border is being installed. By 2015, gas will flow from Kurdistan to fuel the demands in Turkey. Beyond Turkey, Europe is a major gas purchaser, and the Kurds will be an important supplier for those markets as the world moves to cleaner burning natural gas to energize economies.
Although the story is young, the results are bold. Kurdistan has arrived as a major player in the oil and gas sector, and has proven that it will prudently manage its natural resources for the benefit of its people. Kurdistan does not exist in a vacuum, and thus greater Iraqi and regional issues often shadow the progress achieved in less than a decade. Kurdistan has managed to protect itself with progressive policies that benefit its citizens and comply with the norms of the progressive world.The facts highlight the achievements and the mood proves the bonanza. In both regards, Kurdistan stands successful on the world energy map.