There’s been a lot in the news about Royal Dutch Shell, which has won what the FT calls “the right” to develop Iraq’s Majnoon oilfield, beating off Total of France in particular. The FT also quotes an Iraqi oil executive describing “the auction” of oil as the second gold rush. It marks the re-entry of foreign companies into Iraq 37 years after the oil industry was nationalised, says the FT. There’s also a lot of noise about Iraq posing a threat to Saudi Arabia, in so far as its reserves and potential could – in the long run – rival SA’s. It’s worth reading this in conjunction with Private Eye this week, which has published some truly eye-watering information about the interests of British ‘diplomat’, Jeremy Greenstock, who – despite all his apparent concern about Iraq and Iraqis – was has been making deals as a consultant for De La Rue and British Petroleum in Iraq. I’m not saying it’s surprising. But it is very distressing. It reminds me of the British and US consultants working for major oil companies in Angola: a vast number of them were former ambassadors, diplomats and even, in one case, an ‘academic’ who had enjoyed a long relationship with the MPLA ever since he wrote an excellent text on Angola under the Portuguese. (I remember when I researched and wrote that story up that the BBC wasn’t interested – too tricky for auntie – and so I published it in the then excellent but now defunct Africa Analysis magazine.) When it comes to oil, everyone, it seems, has the capacity to adapt and compromise in order to fill their grimy pockets.
What has been less-reported about the Iraq oil fields ‘auction’ is the entry of Sonangol into the game. The Angolan oil company has won deals to develop two oilfields in – appropriately perhaps given Angola’s history – Iraq’s most dangerous areas, Qayara and Najmah. According to a Reuters report, these fields offer two of the highest per-barrel remuneration fees at the auction ($5 for Qayara and $6 for Najmah). The Reuters report suggests that because Angola was “gripped” by a 27 year civil war (how exactly a civil war grips a country is a bit beyond me, but anyway) it might perhaps not be so put off by the “insurgency violence” going on around and about. Reuters states that Sonangol is aiming to produce 230,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the two fields; and its overal output next year will reach 3m bpd.
Angola is the second biggest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. Sonangol knows no bounds, believe me. They are most impressive, whichever way you look at it. If you’re interested in knowing more, you could either get a large bucket at the ready and then sit down to read their mag, Universo, (scroll down on that site and you can click on the links to look at certain editions; alternatively get in touch with the ed who can send you a copy; alternatively I can email you a pdf of a recent copy I was given) which gives a new meaning to puff and is edited by a British Oxford graduate and former Guardian journalist (what else?), or you could read this paper by the academic Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, which takes a much more objective and serious look at the company.
Incidentally, as an example of BBC ignorance/bias/incompetence/disinterest in serious reporting from the African continent, the BBC happily allowed at least two of its correspondents in Angola to write puff for Universo whilst also working for the BBC. Would Andrew Marr, I alway used to wonder, have been allowed to write such rubbish for Chevron or BP and still maintain his job?