Iraq's creaking infrastructure presents a major hurdle as the country seeks to increase its crude oil exports [AP]

Iraq's oil ministry has announced a significant increase in its oil reserves, pushing the country into third place in terms of reserves worldwide.

Officials said on Monday that extensive studies show proven reserves stand at 143.1 billion barrels, a 30 per cent increase from previous estimates of 115 billion barrels.

Iraq overtook Iran to gain the the third-place status in terms of oil reserves, according to data released by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec).

The announcement could cement Iraq's position as an oil power and strengthen its hand within Opec, analysts said.

Foreign oil firms

In 2009, Iraq signed a dozen deals with multinational oil companies in the hopes of boosting output to 12 million barrels per day in seven years - from the current 2.5 million bpd - rivalling top oil producer Saudi Arabia.

The new contracts could provide Iraq with the billions of dollars it needs to rebuild - after years of war, sanctions and decline.

Oil Reserves

Proven world oil reserves in billions of barrels (bbl):

  Saudi Arabia: 264
  Canada: 178
  Iraq: 143
  Iran: 138
  Kuwait: 102
  Venezuela: 99
  UAE: 98
  Russia: 79
  Libya: 46
 

Nigeria: 36

      World Factbook, 2010 

Decades passed with very little oil exploration activity in Iraq. And reserves data, largely based on outdated technology, had not been revised for years.

The new reserve figure was reached with the help of international companies working at 12 fields, Hussain al-Shahristani, Iraq's oil minister, said at a news conference.

Shahristani said 71 per cent of those reserves were concentrated in the south of the country, 20 per cent in the north and nine per cent in the centre.

Also, Iraq's western desert region is largely unexplored but is believed to hold large quantities of oil.

"The rise in reserves from West Qurna and Zubair has considerably contributed to the rise," Shahristani said.

He added that the West Qurna field had reserves of 43 billion barrels, making it the second largest field in the world.

Export capacity

The country's crude oil exports rose in September to 2.021 million barrels per day from 1.789 million
bpd the previous month, an Iraqi oil official said on Saturday.

Falah al-Amri, the head of Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation, cited fewer technical problems and power shortages in the south - as well as fewer sabotage acts on its northern Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline - to explain the September increase.

Exports from Basra can fluctuate widely due to weather conditions or technical problems, while bomb attacks have hampered crude flow from the Kirkuk fields.

Iraq, which depends on oil exports for 95 per cent of government revenue, expects average crude exports in 2011 to top 2 million bpd, Amri said.

Source: Agencies