Iraq boosts oil export capacity in Gulf

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Iraq began loading crude oil Friday from a second offshore export terminal in the Persian Gulf, part of a major project to boost Iraq's income.

Also Friday, the government agreed to allow ExxonMobil Corp. to continue working in one of Iraq's biggest oil fields.

Dhia Jaafar, the head of State-run South Oil Company, said that the pumping started late Thursday from the terminal when a ship with a capacity of 2 million barrels docked near its platform to be loaded with oil.

The crude is being pumped from the terminal at a rate of 35,000 barrels an hour.

The new terminal is the second of five that will eventually handle about 5 million barrels a day. They will help Iraq to bring in sorely needed cash for reconstruction after decades of war and international sanctions.

With the opening of the two terminals, Basra export capacity has been raised to around 3.5 million barrels a day, he said.

Jaafar also said ExxonMobil Corp. will continue working in the 8.6 billion-barrel West Qurna Stage 1 field in Basra province, even though it has been banned from bidding on developing gas fields next month.

Iraq said that Exxon is not allowed to bid in the May auction of 12 exploration blocks nationwide because of its refusal to abandon its deals with the self-rule Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

The Texas-based Exxon signed six deal with the Kurds last October to search for oil in six areas, bypassing the Baghdad government, which maintains that it must ratify all such contracts.

"ExxonMobil has given assurances that it will sort out its problems in Kurdistan," Jaafar explained. "Therefore, the government allowed it to continue working in West Qurna."