August 8, 2014 12:00 pm

London-listed oil groups evacuate staff from Kurdistan

Two London-listed oil explorers have joined American majors by withdrawing workers from the Kurdistan region of Iraq amid fears for their safety, as the US began air strikes to halt the advance of Isis insurgents.

Genel Energy, which is led by former BP chief executive Tony Hayward, said it was withdrawing up to 100 workers from three of its fields – Miran, Chia Surkh and Ber Bahr – where production is yet to begin.

However, it insisted on Friday that its key production fields of Taq Taq and Tawke remained secure, stating: “We remain confident in the Kurdistan regional government’s ability to maintain the territorial integrity of both the KRI and oil infrastructure.”

The statement from Genel, which is producing about 80,000 barrels of oil a day in the region, came as fellow Kurdistan explorer Afren confirmed it had suspended operations at its Barda Rash field.

“Working with our local security advisers, Afren is implementing a phased withdrawal of non-essential field personnel from the Barda Rash field, the company said.

Production at the Barda Rash site is modest, averaging less than 800 barrels of oil a day. However, a major upsurge in output has been expected following encouraging test-drilling at the field.

The withdrawal of staff by Afren and Genel came as President Barack Obama authorised the US air strikes to prevent a possible “genocide” of Iraq’s religious minorities, marking a significant escalation of America’s military role in the country.

Interactive map

Isis’s advance in Iraq

Isis' map

Track the progress of the jihadi militants as they gain more ground in Iraq and Syria.

Until recently Kurdistan was seen as a haven of stability, despite the unrest in the north of Iraq and had seemed immune to the threat of incursions by Isis forces. However, clashes between the Islamic militants and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in recent days have underscored the region’s vulnerability to Iraq’s widening civil war.

Both Genel and Afren insisted there was no immediate threat to cash flows. Earlier this week Mr Hayward predicted a surge in piped exports from the region in spite of the continued civil war on its borders, insisting: “The Isis insurgency is not good for Iraq or the world – but Kurdistan does remain safe and secure.”

ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two US oil majors who have defied Iraq’s federal government in Baghdad by striking unilateral deals with the Kurdish region to prospect for oil, are also reported to be withdrawing staff from the area.

Chevron said the company was “closely monitoring the situation”. “We have reviewed the business critical expatriate positions and as a consequence made a reduction in the total numbers of expatriates in the region,” it said.

Gulf Keystone Petroleum insisted on Thursday that work at its Shaikan licence towards the Iranian border remained secure but it had increased security as a precaution.

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan

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