A pipeline at the oil fields in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. Picture: REUTERS
A pipeline at the oil fields in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. Picture: REUTERS

Baghdad/London — Iraq has yet to inform its regular oil buyers of cuts to its exports, suggesting it is struggling to fully implement an oil cartel Opec deal with Russia and other producers (Opec+) on a record supply cut, traders and industry sources said.

Less than full compliance by Iraq, as well as by smaller producers such as Nigeria and Angola, could hurt Opec+ efforts to cut output by 9.7-million barrels per day (bpd) from May 1, equivalent to about 10% of world demand before the coronavirus crisis led to a slide in consumption and prices.

Iraq, Opec’s second largest oil producer, has instructed its biggest company, Basra Oil Company (BOC), to cut output from May as part of its efforts to reduce its output by 1-million bpd, or 1% of global supply, an oil ministry source said.

But it has yet to agree an action plan with other oil companies such as BP, ExxonMobil, Eni or Lukoil, which operate the biggest fields in the country, a BOC spokesperson said.

“Talks with international oil companies are still continuing to find ways of curtailing production that serve all parties and ensure mutual interests are observed,” the BOC spokesperson said. “We can’t say talks hit a deadlock. We expect a breakthrough to be reached soon.”

Iraq’s oil ministry could not be immediately reached for comment. BP, Exxon, Eni and Lukoil declined to comment.

One industry source active in Iraq said the companies are refusing the cut and that delays in forming a new government in Iraq are complicating the discussions. “It’s a mess at the moment,” the source said.

Opec Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have informed their customers of cuts to exports. Kuwait, Oman and the UAE have also officially informed Opec.

Three trading sources said Iraq has not issued any such statements to its regular oil buyers yet. Two of the sources said Iraq’s May export plans from the south were broadly in line with April’s at about 3.3-million bpd.

There is no requirement for participating countries to tell Opec how they will make their cut, but informing customers about their oil allocations is standard practice.

Opec’s secretary-general Mohammad Barkindo declined to discuss individual country compliance: “We are now focused on the full and timely implementation of this historic agreement.”

‘Deadlock’

The challenge for many Opec+ countries arises from how much they are asking international oil companies (IOCs) to cut, said Amrita Sen of analyst firm Energy Aspects. “Beyond logistical shut-ins, some of the cuts needed from Iraq, Nigeria and other countries when they have barely complied with previous cuts are simply not going to happen,” she said.

Companies producing in Iraq’s southern oilfields operate service contracts that pay them a fixed dollar fee for their output and are also compensated in crude cargoes. This type of contract shields oil companies against sharp falls in oil prices. But it also means that, with the Opec cuts, Iraq ends up with less crude to market itself.

“Most operators have told Iraq they are happy for them to cut but want their fees repaid in full. It is basically a deadlock,” said a source from one of the four companies.

Nigeria and Angola’s current export schedules show they are not cutting as much as required under the Opec+ deal, but will go further than they did under the previous Opec+ agreement that ended on March 31.

Under the latest deal, Nigeria should cap production at 1.41-million bpd in May and June. But data from price reporting agency Argus Media shows it plans to export 1.56-million bpd in May and 1.65-million bpd in June, excluding the Akpo condensate stream.

A trade source who has seen Nigeria’s latest loading programmes said that while Nigeria has made a significant cut to its export plans in May, they will still fall short of the pledged Opec+ cut.

Nigeria’s ministry of petroleum resources did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Export plans for May and June from Africa’s second biggest exporter, Angola, may also fall short of its Opec obligations. Angola’s petroleum ministry and its petroleum regulator did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

May volumes were retroactively cut back to about 1.27-million bpd and June export volumes are expected to be about 1.25-million bpd, loading programmes showed.

These are both higher than the 1.18-million bpd production level Angola has agreed to under the Opec+ deal for the initial two months.

Reuters