18 June 2014, News Wires – Violence in Iraq has prompted some companies to start drawing down staff in the oil-rich country amid fears Sunni militants could strike major oilfields concentrated in the Shi’ite-controlled south.
UK supermajor BP has sent home some non-essential personnel, Reuters quoted chief executive Bob Dudley as saying.
“We are just very vigilant in Iraq,” Dudley said. “Non-essential production people have left, but operations continue.”
Media reports also said ExxonMobil, operator of the giant West Qurna-1 field, was also cutting staffing levels. The company declined to comment, however.
China’s CNPC, which is a partner alongside BP in the Rumaila oilfield outside the southern oil hub of Basra, said earlier on Tuesday that it was evacuating some staff after a worker was reported “hijacked” while working at the Halfaya oilfield. The worker was later released, according to reports.
China has reportedly advised its citizens to avoid Iraq. Turkey was also said to have evacuated its consulate in Basra on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
Russian firms such as Gazprom Neft and Lukoil said they were not reducing staff so far but were working on contingency plans.
“Everything is going according to plan for now but we are working on plan B, including evacuation options,” Gazprom Neft’s first deputy head Vadim Yakovlev was quoted as saying.
The departure of workers was not expected to have a large near-term impact on production, but ongoing violence is fanning fears of a wider civil war that could put production-expansion plans in doubt.
The Iraqi government has taken measures to secure the oil-rich south from militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which has seized much of the north.
International operators are no doubt keeping in mind the attack on BP’s In Amenas gas plant 18 months ago in which dozens of workers were killed.
Security sources working for the oil industry told Reuters companies will proceed with a full evacuation of the hundreds of foreign staff they employ in Iraq only if there is a major escalation of violence, such as a major attack in Baghdad or Basra.
“For each company, the triggers for evacuation are different,” one security source told the news wire. “They analyse practicalities, how you get people out and how you make sure fields continue to operate, possibly even unmanned.”
Last year, oil service firms such as Baker Hughes and Schlumberger suspended work temporarily after labour unrest.