Can Iraqi oil production surprise again on the upside?
Iraqi oil production outperformed expectations in 2015, after numerous years of disappointing growth. Iraqi production, including output from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, rose by 0.62 mb/d to above 3.9 mb/d in 2015, the fastest growth since 2004 when Iraq’s oil sector was recovering after the US invasion. The growth was even more impressive at points during 2015 – up by almost 1 mb/d year-on-year across July and August 2015. Production controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) also grew strongly in 2015, as independent exports via the Kurdish-controlled pipeline to Turkey ramped up, compensating for the permanent closure of the older Kirkuk–Ceyhan pipeline. Given that Iraq was one of the main contributors to oil output growth in 2015, the dynamics within the Iraqi oil sector are key to understanding the global oil market rebalancing process. This comment argues that even though the impressive run of growth has continued into 2016, the prospects are far less positive as we head into 2017, as decline rates will assert themselves amid lower levels of investment and upstream activity. In the medium term, political instability, severe fiscal pressures, and serious delays in key infrastructure projects will constrain Iraq’s output growth.