Russia’s Rosneft has discovered a new oil field in southwestern Iraq, the company said. The first well in the field, named Salman, was drilled at over 4,000 meters and it tapped commercial amounts of crude, Rosneft said. Drilling started in February 2017 and was supposed to be completed by July the same year.
Rosneft acquired the rights to the Salman field when it bought smaller Russian oil producer Bashneft two years ago.
Until recently, Rosneft was widely seen as a partner of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which is still at odds with Baghdad. Last year, after an ill-fated independence referendum in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, Rosneft stepped in to help the Kurdistan government by investing US$3.5 billion in the management of the region’s biggest oil pipeline.
Earlier in 2017, Rosneft provided a loan of US$1.2 billion to the KRG to help it fill a budget gap and committed another US$400 million to oil field exploration in the autonomous region.
For most observers, this was a clear sign that Rosneft—and Russia by association—is on the side of the Kurds, and hence against the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, but a few months later Iraq’s foreign minister dispelled this impression by saying Baghdad was open for business with everyone, including Rosneft.
Rosneft also reportedly used its clout in Kurdistan to advance its expansion into Iraq. Last year, Igor Sechin sent a letter to Iraq’s oil ministry that said as much: if you don’t want to let us into your southern oil fields, we will go explore in Kurdistan, which demonstrated “a higher interest in expanding strategic cooperation.”
Many industry and Middle East politics observers see Rosneft’s expansion in Iraq as a way for Russia to expand its political influence in the region. Rosneft’s taking over the Kurdistan-Turkey pipeline, according to a Reuters story from April, gave the company an instrumental role in the talks between Baghdad and Erbil aimed at restoring full oil flows from Kurdistan to Turkey and oil export payments from Erbil to Baghdad.