Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) Feb 3, 2011
Iraqi Kurdistan has begun pumping oil to an export pipeline to test disused infrastructure, with exports due to resume soon, a source and the company operating there said on Thursday.
The tests are the latest step towards ending a row between Kurdish authorities in Arbil and the central government in Baghdad that led the former to halt exports in October 2009.
"DNO can confirm that export production tests at the Tawke oil field in the Kurdistan region of Iraq commenced on 2 February," Norwegian energy firm DNO said in a statement.
"At present, the tested volumes are around 10,000 barrels per day" (bpd).
It added: "The technical tests are being conducted in close coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government and the (Iraqi state-owned) Northern Oil Company to ensure a responsible and secure start up of exports and to further ramp up to Tawke's current capacity of 50,000 bpd in the near future."
A Northern Oil Company official said the tests at the Tawke field, in Dohuk province in north Iraq, began "just before midnight, and 10,500 barrels were pumped experimentally because pipelines were non-functioning."
The flow on the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline connecting north Iraq to Turkey and the Mediterranean "will gradually increase depending on the pumping operations in the line and production operations of oil fields," the official said on condition of anonymity.
He added that crude would be pumped "on a regular basis" through the pipeline, but did not say how much.
Kurdish prime minister Barham Saleh said on Wednesday that the region was preparing to resume oil exports "soon."
"Work is going on right now regarding resuming oil exports soon," he told AFP. "Companies have started conducting tests of the pumps to restart operations."
Baghdad and authorities in Kurdistan have argued over payments, revenue sharing and the central government's refusal to recognise Kurdish oil contracts.
But last month, the two sides appeared to reach an agreement whereby Baghdad agreed to pay for the expenses of oil companies working in the region and exports were to have resumed on Tuesday.
Iraq currently produces around 2.5 million bpd, but the oil ministry in Baghdad expects that figure to rise to 3 million bpd by the end of the year. Oil revenues account for the lion's share of Iraqi government income.
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