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Houston Chronicle: Safety, legal worries keep Big Oil from Iraq’s reserves

By JIM KRANE
Associated Press

EXTRACT: None is likely to start prospecting until company chiefs feel reasonably assured that their workers won’t be sent home in coffins and that their investments have legal protection that won’t be taken away by a new government. “We are interested and they are interested.  But we need those conditions in place to take it to the next level,” Shell Oil Co. President John Hofmeister said.

THE ARTICLE POSTED ON ROYAL DUTCH SHELL PLC .com

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – In Iraq’s peaceful north, a trio of foreign oil companies have begun classic wildcat exploration, hoping a gusher of black gold will bring them untold wealth.

But the companies are little-known outside the industry — something that’s unlikely to change until security improves. And the deals they have cut with the Kurdish regional administration bypassing the central government leaves them in a murky legal situation.

More than three years after the U.S.-led invasion, no major oil company has stepped forward to spend the huge sums necessary to tap Iraq’s giant oil reserves and get crude flowing and revenues pouring into Iraq’s government to help pay for food, jobs and medical care.

None is likely to start prospecting until company chiefs feel reasonably assured that their workers won’t be sent home in coffins and that their investments have legal protection that won’t be taken away by a new government.

“We are interested and they are interested. But we need those conditions in place to take it to the next level,” Shell Oil Co. President John Hofmeister said.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is eager to get them in. Even with the resources of Big Oil, it would take at least five years to dramatically boost production and refining.

But big companies like Shell and ConocoPhillips won’t budge until Iraq has a law governing oil-sector investment and figures out just who owns the country’s underground oil.

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