Oil giant Exxon Mobil has evacuated all its foreign workers from one of the main oilfields in Iraq and is flying most of them to Dubai, an Iraqi official and other sources told Reuters on Saturday.
State-owned South Oil Company chief Ihsan Abdul Jabbar said that production at Basra’s West Qurna 1 oilfield has not been affected as a result of the move and that work is continuing normally, overseen by Iraqi engineers.
“Exxon Mobil’s evacuation is a precautionary and temporary measure. We have no indication over any dangers, the situation is secure and very stable at the oilfield which is running at full capacity and producing 440,000 bpd,” he told Reuters.
West Qurna 1 is believed to hold as many as 43 billion barrels of total recoverable reserves.
“The foreign engineers will provide advice and perform their duties from the company’s Dubai offices and we have no concerns at all,” Jabbar added.
Iraqi local media reported earlier in the week that Exxon Mobil had evacuated its staff from Iraq due to increasing tensions between the US and Iran. In response, Oil Minister Thamer al-Ghadhban told Reuters that international oil companies were operating at full capacity and assured that oilfields in the south and north of the country were safe and secure.
28 of the foreign workers from West Qurna have reportedly been transferred directly to Dubai and the rest are in the main housing camp for foreign employees in Basra. No non-Iraqi employees remain in the field.
This comes as tensions mount between the US and Iran since Trump re-imposed sanctions on Tehran last year. In recent days, Washington has announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region in response to intelligence that Tehran was planning an attack against US targets or US allies.
On Wednesday, the US State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency US government employees from its embassy in Baghdad and consulate-general in Erbil, as well as the suspension of normal visa services.
The German and Dutch Defense Ministries on Wednesday said they had temporarily paused their training missions in Iraq, which also includes troops that train Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the Kurdistan Region.
On May 7, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced that his country was close to signing a $53 billion, 30-year energy agreement with Exxon Mobil and PetroChina which could generate $400 billion.
Iranian media quoted the country’s top envoy in London on Monday, who reportedly said Washington would grant sanction waivers to Iraq to economically deal with Iran in exchange for Baghdad inking the oil deal with the US company, but Abdul-Mahdi denied the existence of any link between the two.
“The deal lasts for 30 years, and such financial details are sensitive and should be given more discussions,” he said.
Iraq is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) second-largest producer just after Saudi Arabia and currently has an output below its maximum capacity of nearly five million barrels per day (bpd).