Iraq official: Exxon Mobil wants out of big field

BAGHDAD — U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. has expressed an interest in pulling out of a major oil field development project in the country’s south, a senior Iraqi oil ministry official said Wednesday.

The comments by the ministry’s licensing and contracts chief, Abdul-Mahdi al-Ameedi, are the first official acknowledgement of reports that Exxon wants to exit the 8.6 billion barrel West Qurna Phase 1 project.

“There is talk about this issue. In fact, Exxon Mobil is interested in selling its whole share or part of it to other companies and leave West Qurna,” al-Ameedi told reporters at an event in the Iraqi capital.

Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil is the main developer of the West Qurna-1 project. It was awarded rights to work on the field in 2009 along with minority partner Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Exxon has not commented on the possibility that it might leave the project, despite reports that have resonated in the markets in in recent weeks.

The energy company irked Iraq’s central government when it signed up to hunt for oil in the country’s self-ruled Kurdish region late last year.

Al-Ameedi also said that Baghdad has decided to exclude Turkish company TPAO from a consortium that won a separate deal to hunt for oil in Iraq’s south earlier this year. TPAO was a minority partner in a consortium led by Kuwait Energy that won rights in May to explore 900-square-kilometer (350-square-mile) Block 9 in the southern province of Basra.

Its exclusion will mean that Kuwait Energy will now control 70 percent of the project. Remaining minority partner Dragon Oil of the United Arab Emirates will hold a 30 percent stake.