FAW, Iraq – The status of Iraq's crucial oil exports was mired in confusion Tuesday, with government and industry officials giving contradictory statements about whether oil was flowing or whether there were even oil tankers at the port here.
Two top officials with the state-run South Oil Co. (search) said Tuesday that Iraq's exports from the south — which account for 90 percent of the country's exports — remained halted after a series of weekend attacks on pipelines and oil fields.
But company spokesman Samir Jassim said exports were running at 800,000 barrels a day, about half the normal flow.
Witnesses at the port in the Faw Peninsula (search), including an oil smuggler there, said no tankers had even been in the port since late Sunday.
An oil trading and transport consultant said he received word from oil companies and tanker companies scheduled to pick up crude in Basra later this week that shipments would be delayed.
"They'll be delayed five days, maybe seven," said Jeff Goetz, head of marine projects at New York-based Poten & Partners. "I don't know the extent of the damage to the pipelines. But generally speaking, they get repaired very quickly."
Goetz said there also are two oil tankers scheduled to pick up 1 million barrels of oil each over the next week or so in Ceyhan, but these would be the only shipments to occur in the past month.
"There is activity out of Ceyhan, but it's significantly down," Goetz said.
However, oil industry experts said some of the confusion may be more about semantics than anything else.
"Although loadings are continuing the pipeline flow is unclear, leaving open the question of whether loadings are from (oil in) storage (tanks) or from freshly pumped product," said James Steel, director of commodities and oil research at Refco, a New York-based brokerage.
"I think the loadings are from storage," Steel added. "I don't think they're from pipelines."
Goetz echoed those sentiments.
Dow Jones newswires, however, reported Tuesday that unidentified shipping agents at the port said two tankers were loading oil at a rate of more than 1.7 million barrels a day.
Dow Jones also said an Iraqi oil official in Baghdad confirmed that exports were continuing at between 1.6 million and 1.7 million barrels daily.
"Everything is normal," Dow Jones quoted the unidentified official as saying.
Iraq's oil industry, which provides desperately needed money for reconstruction efforts here, has been the target of repeated attacks by insurgents in recent months.
Iraqi officials, fearful of scaring off buyers worried about the unreliable flow of oil from the country, have often been unwilling to give information about the effect of the attacks on exports.
An Associated Press reporter who went to the Faw terminal to try to determine if oil was flowing, was prevented from entering by British troops there. British military officials said they did not have information on the oil flow, and referred journalists to the South Oil Co.
Two senior officials with the state-run South Oil Co. said on condition of anonymity that exports had been shut down from the south since late Sunday, after the sabotage of infrastructure cause storage tanks at Faw to run dry.
The job of guarding oil pipelines primarily falls to the U.S.-trained Iraqi infrastructure protection service, although some U.S. soldiers continue to be to be involved. But with about 4,350 miles of pipelines crisscrossing the country, officials concede there are many places for saboteurs to strike.
Despite the confusion over exports, oil prices fell Tuesday as traders continued a selloff amid easing fears that disruptions in Iraq, Russia or Venezuela could cause a supply squeeze. October contracts for light sweet crude fell by 90 cents to $42.28 on Nymex — well below peaks of over $48 a barrel in mid-August.