Jan. 18 (UPI) -- The oil fields in the northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk could be rehabilitated with the help of British energy company BP, the Iraqi government said Thursday.
The Iraqi Oil Ministry said it signed a memorandum of understanding with BP to overhaul fields seized when Iraqi forces grabbed control over parts of the region following a controversial referendum for Kurdish independence last year.
Iraqi Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luaibi said in a statement the government was keen "to develop the oil fields in Kirkuk governorate to open a new page for the work of the North Oil Company."
Luaibi visited the field Thursday with Michael Townsend, one of BP's top officials. By the ministry's read, BP will carry out studies necessary to boost field production to around 750,000 barrels of oil per day.
BP suggested in October it was in broader talks with efforts in Kirkuk, though so far has been tight lipped in its potential role in northern Iraq. The next month, the ministry's spokesman, Assim Jihad, said the order was given for "concerned companies and authorities" to prepare the documents related to the reconstruction of a pipeline meant to carry crude oil from Kirkuk to the Turkish sea port at Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.
Crude oil from northern Iraq flows primarily by truck and through a pipeline from territory controlled officially by the Kurdish government to Ceyhan. A second pipeline runs north from Kirkuk, though the ministry spokesman said it was damaged so badly by Islamic State militants that parts of it would need to be rebuilt.
The memorandum with BP followed a meeting between Luaibi and Jon Wilks, the British envoy to Baghdad. The oil minister during the meeting extended an invitation to British oil and gas companies to increase their investments in Iraq.
An identical invitation was offered to U.S. Ambassador Douglas Silliman in early January.
U.S. supermajor Chevron operates at the Sarta and Qara Dagh blocks in the northern semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, covering about 279,000 acres in what's considered complex geology. Most operations are still in the exploration phase.
BP has a role in the supergiant Rumaila oilfield near the southern port city of Basra. David Nicholas, a spokesperson for BP in London, said the agreement on Kirkuk is a carry over from work already planned.
"We started this work in 2013 but it was curtailed by instability in the region and ended in 2015," he told UPI.