Moody’s: Iraqi violence isn’t likely to affect oil company credit ratings

Sectarian violence in Iraq is unlikely to significantly affect credit ratings of major oil companies in the region, even if the fighting reaches the country’s major oil fields and cuts off production, Moody’s Investors Services predicted Monday.

While the uprising led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant probably will disrupt investments and longer-term growth plans, most global oil companies operating in Iraq are highly diversified, with Iraqi oil production making up only a fraction of their overall production.

And if supply disruptions do occur and push oil prices up, companies could benefit from the higher price tag on their product. International benchmark crude dipped 47 cents Monday to $110.17 per barrel.

Andrew Lipow, president of Houston-based consulting firm Lipow Oil Associates, attributed Monday’s price drop to reopening of Libyan exporting facilities and the anticipation that Libyan oil production will return.

The jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant so far has not taken over territory containing Iraq’s southern fields, where Iraq produces 75 percent of its oil. Those fields are in areas controlled by Iraqi government and are operated primarily by international oil companies.

Iraq has proven oil reserves of 141 billion barrels and oil production of 3 million to 3.2 million barrels per day, Moody’s said.

Companies brought in by the Iraqi government in 2008 to resuscitate the oil industry have invested billions of dollars in the country and boosted work forces under long-term oil contracts, leading to significant increases in oil output since then, Moody’s stated. BP and Exxon Mobil Corp. hold two of the country’s largest contracts.

Lipow said, however, that ISIL’s activities have led to a 600,000 barrel-per-day production decline.

Moody’s said some international companies have shut down operations and sent home personnel. There’s also a risk a regime change could void existing contracts, dealing a significant blow to the oil industry in a country desperate for export revenue to fuel its domestic financial needs.

Still, major oil companies and oil services providers should be able to ride out the turmoil, or be the first to resume operations after a disruption, Moody’s predicts.