Tuesday, August 30, 2011
By: Shwan Zulal
The Iraqi Cabinet has finally approved the draft Hydrocarbon law and will soon be read in parliament. This latest development comes on the backdrop of another draft oil law, which was introduced by the Iraqi Parliamentary committee for energy pushed, by Iraqiya List and the Kurds.
Incumbent MPs walked out of parliament when the draft was supposed to have its first reading accusing the energy committee for not consulting with the government and calling the draft law weak and insubstantial. The first Hydrocarbon Bill surfaced in 2007 and due to political differences between the competing interests of the political factions and disputes over the legality of the Kurdish contracts, it was delayed since.
The parliamentary committee has always been calling for the enactment of a hydrocarbon law before holding any further hydrocarbon auctioning rounds. However, the Government has not made it its priority to try to push for the law and concentrated on developing the oil and gas sector with little progress. Commentators believe the law might be passed before the January auction. And the Iraqi government is adamant that the 4th round of auction should go ahead regardless of the enactment of the law.
This legal conundrum has created a tremendous amount of uncertainty for Kurdish Region and oil and gas companies operating there. Moreover, other companies operating in the south of the country feel vulnerable too as the Iraqi government does not yet appears to be consistent as some contracts has been renegotiation after nearly two years and deals Shell and Mitsubishi in the south of the country have been delayed.
The enactment of the Oil and gas law -either draft- may give some investors a sense of security and encourage other to come to the country, but unless the law is reached by political consensus and the parties involved willingly agree to adhere to it, the status quo does not change.
Kurdistan Region has been at the forefront of the parliamentary melee for the hydrocarbon law and along with the Iraqiya list have managed to push Al-Maliki's government to speed up the introduction of government version of the hydrocarbon law. The main aim of the KRG is to make sure that the contracts they entered into stay in place and if they are revised, KRG officials will have a say.
Information coming out of the Wikileaks files suggests that the US state department has advised companies against investing in Kurdistan and especially in the oil sector due to the legality of the contracts. However, some companies have ignored the advice and could not resist what was on offer in Kurdistan. Hunt oil being one example, they bought into Dhok block despite such warning. Furthermore, more talk of potential takeover is emerging in Kurdistan as Tony Hayward, investment vehicle Vallares said to be in final stages of making an offer for Turkish Genel Energy and there has rumours of British listed GKP (Gulf Keystone Petroleum) being up for sale, although denied by the company. These activates can only be an indicator that interest in the region is on the up and investors are cottoning on to the fact that the KRG would not budge to Baghdad. It is also becoming apparent that KRG will make sure the PSCs it has awarded will be honoured as failing to do so make KRG irrelevant.
With the issue of the Kurdish oil contracts becoming the focus of the Iraqi lawmakers and Kurdistan region being shelled and bombed by both Iran and Turkey. The Iraqi government has acted with impunity and so far failed to defend its "citizens" in the north of the country. The Iraqi government's lack of response could only confirm that Baghdad has very little to do with Kurdistan Region and the impasse between Baghdad and Erbil is ever greater.
In recent weeks, the KRG have looked weaker and appeared to be losing authority, but Kurdish politicians including the President has come out fighting and condemned the attacks. The massage has been clear to everyone that the Kurdistan Region is here to stay and threatening behaviour from neighbouring countries will not dent her resolve.