How Much Oil Does Iraq Have ?  

Posted by Big Gav

[Update: This is one of a number of posts on Iraq's oil reserves - these are collected here along with some other particularly relevant articles...]

I was impressed at how quickly this discussion (have a read of it - both the comments and the big list of links make interesting reading - and I've still got quite a few to get through) made its way up onto the message boards after my post on "The Control Of Oil".

Poster "OilsNotWell" makes an interesting connection between my comment about oil companies apparently suppressing information about big oil finds in Iraq in the old days, and this newer report from Italy.

"According to Benito Livigni, a former manager of ENI and the United States’ Gulf Oil Company, Iraqi’s oil reserves are estimated at 400 billion barrels, far more than the known figure of 116 billion."

At first, I thought: 400 BILLION? Hogwash!

After all, the consensus has previously been around 115 Billion barrels. I dismissed it as rhetoric. Yet, after running into a reference to a book written in 1977 by John M. Blair, entitled "The Control of Oil" recently posted on the blog Peak Energy sent me searching.

I learned that Iraq has had a very unique history in its oil reserves development and production, and that it might just be true that a fairly significant amount of oil remains to be developed. I learned that the majors may have worked mightily to contain the true nature of Iraq's reserves, and that Iraq has indeed not had the kind of development the reported amounts of those reserves would engender. There are a fair number of other considerations as well, most of which deal with a better estimate of Iraq's remaining proven, and probable, reserves.

Let us assume that the amount of reserves is far larger than many had surmised or expected. We then, of course, may see peak oil delayed, or, far more likely, managed for maximize control and profit. However, since the US and its intelligence community has long known about and planned for, the probable peak in oil production, plans would have been made to control resources upon the downslope. Indeed, many have already stated that.

However, WHAT IF, peak was indeed to happen, and it just so happens that the US and the West's interests in oil development happened to be able to CONTROL the downslope at at time of apparently declining supplies, while taking advatage of a truly awesome resource base, it would make the neocon conquest of Iraq make even clearer sense given the costs in lives, geopolitical relationships, and money thus far. In fact, if we estimate the remaining proved + probable reserves of Iraq at what appears to be a consensus estimate of 200 billion, at $50 barrel, that would imply a resource base of 10 TRILLION DOLLARS.... (one of my links goes through the resource estimates in detail). Remember, Cheney's energy task force, which STILL has not released details on the substance of their discussions (even after being sued), DID release a few documents, which were in fact, maps of the oil fields of Iraq

One of my first thoughts when I read the section on Iraq (which looks at how the majors suppressed news of discoveries in Iraq during the 1950's and 1960's) was to think - "how much oil is really under the ground in Iraq then" ? If their reserves are a lot bigger than currently believed then it certainly adds more weight to the belief that we're in Iraq for their oil reserves.

Of course, even if there are huge "hidden" reserves there, it won't affect the peak date by much (especially given the difficulties involved in actually extracting and transporting the oil out of Iraq), but it would have a big effect on the shape of the downslope. Having control of what may be an extra 300 billion barrels (maybe 30% of the current ASPO estimate of remaining reserves ?) of oil provides a pretty strong rationale as to why we'll have troops in Iraq for the 30-40 years forecast by Dick Cheney.

The discussion at doesn't really come to a conclusion on this, but there is plenty of interesting information in there. I did try and do some research on this, but given the time lapse since then and now even the ASPO's published estimates didn't make it clear how much Iraq's reserve estimates were altered in the intervening years.

A friend of the family even used to work for the IPC in Iraq at that time, but he hasn't responded to my questions on the subject unfortunately (this may simply be because he's very ill and he thinks peak oilers are nuts though).

One followup poster referenced a comment about Iraqi reserves in "The Power Of Nightmares" which I'd forgotten about, but would have fitted in well in my review:
I think it was a segment of the BBC's "The Power of Nightmares"in which the owner of a small British petroleum exploration and development firm spoke about Iraq's true reserve totals. He did not give a total estimate - because it's not known - only that there was an awful lot of oil in Iraq. He said it in such a way as to be more than emphatic - talking about the amount of oil in Iraq in dreamy tones as if he were a conquistador talking about el Dorado.

He had completed making certain arrangements for the development of specific untapped fields with the Iraqi leadership when 911, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq spoiled his plans.

You can download the three installments of "Power of Nightmares" using Bittorrent or free peer-to-peer software like LimeWire. It's very good. It was shown on British TV last October. Fat chance of the American public getting a dose of anything like it.

Thinking about "The Power Of Nightmares" also made me remember the words of Paul Wolfowitz (who features prominently in that documentary) in 2003:
The ... difference between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil.

Some of the speculation is around whether or not the Iraqi western desert contains any oil or not (its currently believed that it doesn't). The map below is one of the few documents released in the aftermath of the Cheney Energy Taskforce (from OilsNotWell's post at

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Interesting stuff, Gav - I am never sure what to pin the root cause of the Iraq invasion on - but oil is always there as a sweetener, no matter what neocons claim.

As Noam Chomsky always reminds us: what's more important -- access to oil or control over oil?

Well - I've always thought the neocons invaded Iraq in order to control its oil (and Saudi Arabias, and Kuwaits) - but the idea that there may be a lot more than currently believed adds an interesting twist to it.

As for Chomsky - he's right as always - but I think the question has a different answer depending on who you are. A lot of American (and British) power and influence would seem to be based on their abiliy to control access to oil. And there is all the speculation about the dollar-oil link and what it means for the US$ if oil were to be traded in another currency.

jayshelley   says 2:27 AM

Invading Iraq was the right move and would have happened even if Gore were President at the time. The world powers decided it needed a power base to secure the oil supply, and the US has all the weapons. Saddam was weak and refused to play ball, so he had to go. You and I paid for this. It was either that or risk world depression at $6 bucks a gallon with a psycho controlling 40% of the world's oil supply

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