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ROYAL DUTCH SHELLA : Shell Suggests More Realistic Iraq Oil Target

05/17/2012 | 05:53pm US/Eastern

Iraq may be forced to cut its ambitious oil production targets by as much as 40%, despite recently boosting output to pre-Gulf War levels, a senior Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN) executive said Thursday.

Although Iraq has been steadily improving output in recent months -- the International Energy Agency estimates the country has been pumping as many as 250,000 more barrels a day since August -- its plans to produce 11 million barrels a day by 2020 are unlikely to come to pass, according to the Shell official.

Instead, Iraq can realistically expect to boost oil output to between 6 million and 7 million barrels a day, said Ruth Cairnie, Shell executive vice president for strategy and planning. "Iraq has acknowledged that its targets are too ambitious," said Cairnie, who was addressing a conference here.

Shell, which is renovating the giant Majnoon field with Malaysia's Petronas, is one of the largest oil companies operating in Iraq.

In another interview, the head of Shell's Iraq operations said the Anglo-Dutch major was in talks with the government about how best to develop the Majnoon field. While he acknowledged that this could mean a reduction in the targeted production plateau level of 1.8 million barrels a day, he stressed that discussions were ultimately aimed at ensuring Iraq's oil reservoirs were better maintained for longer.

"We're now in exploratory discussions with the government about the optimal field development plan. A reduction in the plateau, and consequent extension of the field's life, could be an outcome, but you have to look at that not so much as a Majnoon issue as one in the overall context of what is overall the right production level for Iraq," said Nijkamp.

While Iraq's deputy prime minister in charge of energy, Hussain al-Shahristani, has set a target of 11 millions barrels a day by 2020, industry analysts and executives have cautioned that this is unrealistic. In particular, the war-damaged country's lack of adequate export infrastructure and insufficient water supplies -- a key component when pumping crude -- mean this ambition is little more than a pipe dream.

However, this target is actually a revision of the country's previously stated output goal of 12 million barrels a day. Shahristani last month gave a more circumspect assessment of Iraq's crude prospects, saying the change of plan was undertaken to "maximize the recovery from each field...and extend the plateau production," to 2035.

-By Alexis Flynn, Dow Jones Newswires; +44 20 7842 9471; alexis.flynn@dowjones.com (James Herron contributed to this report.)

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