* Former BP CEO Hayward working with KRG as head Genel
* Iraq wants to raise output to 600,000 bpd from 280,000
* KRG also seeks to raise output on its side of field
BAGHDAD/LONDON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - BP's deal to
develop an Iraqi oilfield that straddles the border with the
autonomous Kurdish region puts it in the front line of a
sectarian stand-off, in which rivals and its former CEO have
chosen the other side.
Under the draft agreement revealed by Reuters on Wednesday,
BP will undertake work to arrest declining
production at the Kirkuk oilfield.
Kirkuk's oil riches are at the centre of a crisis within the
national government of Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish parties over
how to share power amid increasing worries the country may
relapse into wide-scale sectarian bloodshed.
At least 25 people died on Wednesday in a Kirkuk suicide
BP will be working on the Baghdad-administered side of the
border on the Baba and Avana geological formations. Kirkuk's
third formation, Khurmala, is controlled by the Kurdistan
Regional Government (KRG).
"From a political perspective, this would move BP close to
the fault line. But there are also very solid technical reasons
for the oil ministry to have BP at Kirkuk," a western oil
executive working in Iraq said on Thursday.
Kirkuk output has slumped to 280,000 bpd from 900,000 bpd in
2001 after years of injecting water and dumping unwanted crude
and products into the field. Iraqi officials have said they
would like BP to raise production capacity at this 77-year old
workhorse to around 600,000 bpd in five years.
BP's former chief executive Tony Hayward, now heading a new
company, and a number of rivals including Exxon Mobil
and Chevron have cast their lot with the Kurdish side of
In an interview with Reuters in September,
Kurdistan Energy Minister Ashti Hawrami said he wanted to deploy
oil companies on a project to raise Khurmala's output to as much
as 300,000 barrels a day (bpd) from its current 85,000 bpd.
Hawrami also said the KRG, with autonomy and its own armed
forces since 1991, would also be interested in capturing the gas
that is now being flared from the Avana dome.
At the start of its project, BP will make a "special
allocation" of $100 million to help stop Kirkuk's decline and
carry out surveys to get a clear picture of the field.
"We have made a proposal for short-term assistance, which
they appear to like and we're progressing on from that,"
Michael Townshend, president of BP in Iraq, said on Wednesday.
"It's early days."
BP has arguably the best relationship with Baghdad among the
world's top international oil companies through its contract at
the huge Rumaila field in the south of the country, far from the
disputed Kurdish north.
The KRG's oil exports and contracts are at the heart of a
wider dispute with Baghdad's Arab-led government over territory,
oilfields and political autonomy.
Iraq's government insists it alone has the sole authority to
export crude oil and sign deals, but Kurdistan says the
constitution allows it to agree to contracts and ship oil
independently of Baghdad.
Iraq Energy minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi has said Baghdad
intends to sue Genel Energy - the first company to
export oil directly from Kurdistan - and may slash the
government's allocated budget to the region unless it halts what
he rejected as smuggling.
Genel is led and part-owned by Hayward, the former head of
BP who quit the company after the U.S. Gulf oil spill of 2010.
BP's rivals Exxon, Chevron, Total and others have
angered and alienated Baghdad by signing lucrative
production-sharing contracts with the KRG on better operating
conditions than in the south.
Baghdad issued Exxon an us-or-them ultimatum a year ago. The
result was the U.S. major opted to sell its 60 percent stake in
the West Qurna-1 oilfield in southern Iraq. China National
Petroleum Corp (CNPC) has emerged as the front-runner to buy it.