WASHINGTON, April 14 (UPI) -- Iraq's Oil Ministry has approved 35 companies it will allow to bid for soon-to-be announced tenders to develop oil and gas fields.
The largest oil companies in the world -- ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Conoco Phillips, Chevron -- all qualified, as did firms of a variety of sizes and nationalities.
The announcement Monday on the ministry's Web site is a major move that could bring foreign oil companies en masse into Iraq since the third-largest oil sector in the world was nationalized three decades ago.
It takes place as the ministry attempts to increase oil and gas production as a new law to govern the sector remains in dispute between the central and Kurdistan regional governments.
The announcement said of the 120 companies or consortia that applied, 35 met the minimum criteria and "can then participate in the coming Licensing Round for planned Oil and Gas Fields which will be announced in due time when they will receive a Letter of Invitation from Petroleum Contracts and Licensing Directorate to this effect."
Those that didn't qualify this time will be able to update their applications for future bidding rounds.
Iraq's Oil Ministry will not unveil the list of oil and gas fields that will be put to tender. Iraq wants to increase production from the current 2.4 million barrels per day to 6 million bpd in the short term. Its plan is to increase production of currently flowing fields and develop those fields discovered but not producing. There is not expected to be any exploration blocks included in the tender.
The Kurdistan Regional Government interprets the constitution as a mechanism to decentralize the oil sector, allowing provinces and regions producing oil some level of autonomy, while many in government believe the central government should hold the oil strategy portfolio.
The KRG passed its own oil law and has signed dozens of exploration and production deals with foreign oil firms. None of the companies that signed with the Kurds qualified for the ministry's bidding round -- though many didn't bother to apply -- as Baghdad made good on its promise to blacklist those firms.
Qualifying Firms (alphabetical by country):
-- Australia: BHP Billiton; Woodside.
-- British: BG International; BP; Premier.
-- Canada: Nexen.
-- China: CNOOC; CNPC; Sinochem; Sinopec.
-- Denmark: Maersk.
-- France: Total.
-- Germany: Wintershall BASF Group.
-- India: ONGC.
-- Indonesia: Pertamina.
-- Italy: Edison; ENI.
-- Japan: Inpex; Japex; Mitsubishi Corp.; Nippon.
-- Korea: Kogas.
-- Malaysia: Petronas.
-- Netherlands: Shell.
-- Norway: StatoilHydro.
-- Russia: Gazprom; Lukoil.
-- Spain: Repsol.
-- United States: Anadarko; Chevron; Conoco Phillips; ExxonMobil; Hess Corp.; Marathon; Occidental Petroleum.
Ben Lando, UPI Energy Editor