Most experts believe that there is literally a sea of oil under the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan. Which is obviously a large part of the reason international oil companies are lining up to work here. And this week the Iraqi government announced ambitious new plans to increase oil production even further – if the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan can ever agree with the Iraqi government in Baghdad over oil rights, then the Kurdish would doubtless be supplying part of that desired oil.
However, as one expert in Iraqi Kurdistan warns, increasing oil cannot come without risks. And he doesn’t mean the security risks and political infighting that already mar oil production in Iraq and in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Natural Resources has announced that the region’s oil reserves probably stand at about 45 billion barrels,” Baywar Khansi, an oils and metals expert who advises the Iraqi Kurdish government on economic security. “I actually think the estimates should be revised upwards, closer to 60 billion barrels.”
Many in Iraqi Kurdistan believe that the semi-autonomous region will benefit from oil companies working there in the short run. However in the long run, there are fears that the damage this kind of work will do to the environment will outweigh the benefits.
There is a decades-old debate going on around the world as to whether oil extraction procedures can cause earthquakes. A recent earthquake in Oklahoma in the US saw experts voice concerns that some activities involved in oil extraction might well trigger earthquakes, while oil industry played down the potential.
One of the most important things in figuring out whether oil extraction causes tremors is to keep a record of these. Khansi agrees. “I have advised the Ministry of Natural Resources many times to make oil companies install seismographs so that any tremors can be monitored and so we can get information on whether earthquakes may be increased here,” he notes. “Unfortunately they haven’t taken that advice seriously.”
Khansi agrees that as yet, there have been no radical differences in earthquakes in Iraqi Kurdistan. “But,” he argues, “with plans to increase oil production to one million barrels a day by 2015 that is sure to lead to some kind of geological imbalance.”
As the British newspaper, the Guardian recently wrote: “With an estimated 45bn barrels of reserves – the fourth largest in the world – and a century\'s worth of natural gas, the Kurdistan regional government has become a big player in a geologically exciting but politically sensitive market. Hydrocarbon wealth is transforming this strategic corner of the Middle East,” they concluded.
Experts like Khansi and others just hope that the transformation can be a careful and managed one – and without any man-made earthquakes.