Profile: Helmut Merklein
Helmut Merklein was a participant or observer in the following events:
In an opinion piece published by Middle East Economic Survey, Helmut Merklein, a former US assistant secretary of international energy affairs (1984 to 1990), argues that “the concept that Iraqi oil production should remain under exclusive Iraqi control should be anchored in the Iraqi constitution.” He reasons that because oil production accrues “huge rents,” those rents, “like all rents, belong in principle to the resource owner, the people of Iraq.” He says the best way for Iraqis to capture those rents is to leave the Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) in public hands and use utility contracts as the model for any agreements with the private sector. In utility-type agreements, the host governments, instead of the oil companies are the ones to benefit when profits exceed an agreed-upon rate of return. Merklein disputes the notion that Iraq would be unable to jump start the oil sector on its own. He says very little new development is needed and that the funds needed for investment “are dwarfed by the wealth represented by already proven but undeveloped reserves.… They certainly don’t need $10 billion, as projected by the Council of Foreign Relations, or $38 billion for ‘green field development’ (Deutsche Bank)…. If their objective were to restore production to their pre-Gulf-War quota of 3.14 million barrels per day, they would need a capital infusion of less than $1.0 billion. And they categorically do not need the multinationals to get access to that kind of investment. $1.0 billion is less than 0.1 percent of the value of Iraq’s currently proved reserve base. That would be like securing a $300 loan by pledging a fully paid-for $300,000 residence as collateral. With that kind of collateral, there will be no shortage of commercial or governmental (bilateral or multilateral) credit institutions eager to supply the required capital needed to rehabilitate oil production in Iraq.” The Iraqis do not need help from the international oil companies, he says, “The Iraqis have been producing oil for the last 31 years…. They are quite capable of boosting production without the help from international oil companies. They have the experience, they have a lot of practical know-how, and they are known to be inventive and flexible. Whatever they don’t have by way of technological advances, they can acquire through outsourcing in the open market, much like the multinationals do when they turn to seismic firms for exploration, drilling firms for drilling, logging firms for reserve definition, and reservoir engineering firms for production optimization.” Merklein also takes issue with claims that Iraq would be unable to produce more than three million barrels per day. “Just how ridiculous that claim is can be seen from a comparison of the US and Iraqi reserve bases and the production these bases are able to maintain. The US has at present 22.4 billion barrels of proved crude oil reserves; Iraq has 112 billion. The US produces 5.3 million barrels per day from that base. At five times our proven reserve base, Iraq can produce five times the US daily production rate, or some 23 million barrels per day. Without any additional exploration. These are proved reserves. The Iraqis have some 73 oil fields, 58 of them idle. All they have to do is drill them up.” [Middle East Economic Survey, 1/12/2005]
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