Large areas still to be explored

Iraq’s Potential Remains Untapped

So who has the most proven oil reserves?

Few would argue that Saudi Arabia tops the list, reportedly harboring 260 billion barrels of proven reserves. The consensus appears to be that Iraq occupies the number two spot with 115 billion barrels followed by Iran with 90 billion barrels.

Since the war began in Iraq five years ago, oil production and exports have been subjected to numerous disruptions. The good news is they are now at the highest levels of any time during that five-year span.

This accomplishment is all the more notable given the many bouts of oilfield-related sabotage along with the lack of modern equipment and technical know-how in the country’s oil fields following two wars and decades of decades of U.N. sanctions.

Iraq’s average production for February was 2.4s million bopd, according to the Oil Ministry, which noted exports averaged 1.93 million bopd.

The February output grossed US$5.037 billion for the month.

That’s a lot of money, and where it all goes continues to be under discussion. But the fact is that’s also a lot of oil and there’s more oil to be found.

The bulk of the oil production and exports in Iraq originate in the southern province of Basra, where a new wave of violence recently erupted. A lesser yet still sizeable amount of oil comes from fields in the north, in the vicinity of the city of Kirkuk.

Given that the country’s petroleum wealth is concentrated principally in the northern and southern regions, it is noteworthy that the Oil Ministry recently invited both local and international companies to submit bids to develop the Akkas natural gas field in the western province of Anbar. The field reportedly holds estimated reserves of 2.15 tcf of gas and perhaps as much as 100 million barrels of liquid hydrocarbons.

The Oil Ministry also is soliciting proposals for construction of two oil pipelines to link the Basra oil fields to Iran’s Abadan refinery.

Iraq: Room to Grow?

From a geological point of view, Iraq is far less intensely explored than Saudi Arabia and, perhaps, Iran, according to AAPG member Louis Christian, a Dallas-based Middle East exploration consultant.

Christian’s findings complete in a report he calls, “Good News and Bad News from the Middle East: Reserves, Producibility, Future Potential and Possible Economic Consequences” offers “a backward glance” at the region’s oil and gas reserves as well as a look at future production potential.

“Tens of kilometers or even one hundred kilometers between wells and seismic lines in parts of Iraq west of the Euphrates River leave open, inadequately explored regions where Iraqi gravity and magnetic modeling suggests undrilled structural trends and horst blocks with the potential for Mesozoic and Paleozoic closures, carbonate shelf edges and reef trends analogous in age and dimensions to the Paleozoic basins of West Texas,” Christian said.

“A (published) regional composite seismic profile across the 600-kilometer width of Iraq shows structural interpretation between the East Baghdad and Tel Ghazal oil fields,” Christian said. “But west of Baghdad the Abu Jir fault zone and indicated Mesozoic and Paleozoic rollovers remain essentially undrilled.”

At Hith – about 175 kilometers northwest of Baghdad – a huge asphalt lake at the surface has been mined for 5,000 years or more. Christian noted it’s estimated to contain about five billion barrels of heavy oil or asphalt open to outcrop.

“The bricks at ancient Nineveh are held together with asphalt mastic,” he said, “and I have personally seen the triumphal highway entering the main gates of ancient Babylon paved with this asphalt and gravel.”

There are a number of inadequately explored yet inviting gravity highs along the Hith-Abu Jir fault trend, according to Christian.

He noted that Paleozoic prospectivity in Iraq depends largely on lower Silurian source rocks, where thermal maturity runs the gamut from cool and immature to mature and on to sometimes over-mature, depending on current temperatures as well as past burial and re-uplift histories.

About 175 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, one particular well in the Kifl field flowed at a 5,600 barrel per day rate from lower Cretaceous deltaic Zubair formation sandstones. The well hasn’t been connected to a pipeline.

“If commercial developments were possible in areas such as Kifl, west of the Euphrates River, oil production in predominately Sunni areas could begin to approach the production already established in areas that are predominately Shia in southern Iraq and Kurdish in northern Iraq,” Christian said, “possibly facilitating political settlements between the main cultural/ethnic groups.”

Given that the Anbar province reportedly is a former Sunni insurgent stronghold, the proposed development of the Akkas field is considered to have the potential to boost the economy of the Sunni region.  

Super-Giant Middle East Oil Fields
(From GeoArabia, v.2, no. 3)
Top 33 Ranked Oil Fields Country Primary Reservoir Billions of Recoverable Barrels
Ghawar Saudi Arabia Upper Jurassic carbonates 90
Burgan Kuwait Lower Cretaceous sandstone 86
Safaniya Saudi Arabia Lower Cretaceous sandstone 32
Majoon Iraq Lower Cretaceous sandstone 30
Rumalia Iraq Cretaceous carbonates, sandstones 22
Zakum Abu Dhabi Lower Cretaceous carbonates 17
Kirkuk Iraq Tertiary, Cretaceous carbonates 17
Manfia Saudi Arabia Lower Cretaceous, Upper Jurassic 15
Umm Shaif   Abu Dhabi   Lower Cretaceous
Upper Jurassic carbonates
14
Zuluf Saudi Arabia Lower Cretaceous carbonates 14
Ahwaz Iran Tertiary, Cretaceous carbonates 13
Abqaiq Saudi Arabia Upper Jurassic carbonates 13
Khurais   Saudi Arabia   Upper Jurassic-Paleozoic
carbonates/sandstones
12
Marun Iran Tertiary-Upper Jurassic carbonates 12
Berri Saudi Arabia Upper Jurassic-Paleozoic carbonates 11
Gachsaran Iran Tertiary, Upper Cretaceous Lower Cretaceous 11
East Baghdad Iraq Lower Cretaceous sandstone 10
North Field   Qatar   Permian carbonates-
Devonian sandstone
10?
+ gas
Bu Hasa Abu Dhabi Lower Cretaceous carbonates 9
Kuh-e Mand Iran Tertiary-Cretaceous carbonates 9?
Agha Jari Iran Tertiary-Cretaceous carbonates 9
Raudhatain Kuwait Upper Cretaceous-Lower Cretaceous 8
Khafji   Kuwait   Lower Cretaceous sandstone, carbonates  7
Qatif   Saudi Arabia   Upper Jurassic, Middle Jurassic
carbonates
6
Marjan   Saudi Arabia   Upper Cretaceous, Lower Cretaceous
Jurassic carbonates
6
Bab Abu Dhabi Lower Cretaceous carbonates 6
Fateh Dubai Upper Cretaceous carbonates 6?
Sabriya   Kuwait   Upper Cretaceous carbonates
Lower Cretaceous sandstone
5
Asab Abu Dhabi Lower Cretaceous carbonates 5
Zubair   Iraq   Upper Cretaceous carbonates
Lower Cretaceous carbonates
5
Shaybah Saudi Arabia Lower Cretaceous carbonates 5
Dukhan   Qatar   Upper Jurassic, Middle Jurassic
carbonates
5
Abu Sa’fah Saudi Arabia Upper Jurassic carbonates 4

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Good News – Bad News

AAPG member Louis Christian, a Dallas-based Middle East exploration consultant, offers other observations about “the good news and the bad news” found in the region:

As of 10 years ago or more, median field size for the Middle East was about 150 million barrels.

A 50 percentile (median) field size for about 100 Iraqi oil fields plots out to be 130 million barrels.

Dozens of conventional oil discoveries once considered non-commercial (at 2,000-3,000 barrels per day) in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran will surely be developed and marketed in the coming years – “delaying or prolonging the much-feared terminal decline of King Hubbert.” (See “King Hubbert: An Irascible Iconoclast,” December 2007 EXPLORER.)

From a purely geological perspective, Iraq remains much less intensely explored than Saudi Arabia and, perhaps, Iran.

Iraq’s new constitution stipulates that already producing oil fields “shall remain in Iraqi, not foreign hands. Unexplored areas may possibly be made available for joint Iraqi and foreign exploration and development. Will this some day include American oil companies?”

Iran is “structurally so much more complex than Saudi Arabia that in no way can it be said that conventional surface structural mapping, seismic mapping and drilling have come anywhere close to exhausting prospective areas in the Zagros Fold Belt, nor in (its) various interior basins.”

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