Last updated: 13 March, 2012

French Total seeks business in Iraqi Kurdistan

French oil giant Total is in talks to tap opportunities to invest in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, its chief said Tuesday as Baghdad insists contracts should go through the central government.

“Kurdistan is part of Iraq. A lot of companies are investing in Kurdistan-Iraq and we don’t see why Total couldn’t do it,” Total chief executive officer Christophe de Margerie told reporters in Kuwait.

“We are looking at opportunities. We are discussing, but there is nothing done yet,” he said on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum.

He said Total was seeking entry into the sector through companies that already have permits to explore in the oil-rich region.

“Definitely we will go through discussions with owners of existing blocks,” but “in any case you need the approval of the Kurdish government,” he said.

Baghdad regards any contracts not signed with the central government as invalid.

On October 18, Kurdistan signed a deal with US giant ExxonMobil for it to explore six areas, a deal Baghdad strongly opposed.

In December, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said ExxonMobile has promised to reconsider the deal.

De Margerie also said that his company has replaced “all” its imports of oil from Iran with supplies from other countries, in line with sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear programme.

“I cannot tell you by whom,” he told reporters, declining to name oil producers that covered the gap, which he put at “a little bit more than 200,000 barrels per day.”

Oil giants operating in Iran, including the Anglo-Dutch Royal Shell, Norway’s Statoil, Italy’s ENI, have gradually withdrawn from the country, abiding by sanctions.