Irish explorer suspends operations in Iraq and evacuates workers

Petroceltic International has suspended its Iraqi operations and begun to evacuate "non-essential personnel" from the region on safety grounds.

While the firm’s management said at its recent AGM in Dublin that it had no major concerns over safety at its operations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, a brief statement issued by the company yesterday indicated that it had changed its mind to some degree.

The Irish firm has assets in northern Africa — chiefly Algeria and Egypt — as well as in Italy and the Black Sea region.

In Kurdistan, the firm holds a 16% working interest in two exploration concessions in the central area of the region, called Shakrok and Dinarta.

Petroceltic said: “In conjunction with Hess Middle East New Ventures — our partner and the operator of our exploration activities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq — we have been closely monitoring recent events in the region.

“While these developments have not directly impacted our exploration activities to date, in line with other operators in the region, it has been decided, as a precautionary measure, to temporarily secure and suspend operations (including the drilling of the Shireen-1 exploration well in the Dinarta licence) and to evacuate non-essential personnel.”

The news did not damage the company’s share price — which remained unchanged from Friday’s close of £1.57 in London and €1.98 in Dublin.

Earlier this year, Petroceltic’s share price took a hit on the back of negative results from initial drilling activity at its Kurdistan assets.

The move by Petroceltic and Hess follows recent similar decisions by other oil companies in the region — Marathon Oil, Afren, and Oryx all did likewise last week. Genel, one of the biggest producers in the region said it was withdrawing staff, but maintaining daily output from its fields in Kurdistan.

US warplanes returned to Iraqi skies last week, and oil prices remained largely steady up to yesterday morning — before edging up later in the day — as dealers continued to track airstrikes aimed at defending the oil-rich Kurdistan region from extremist militants.

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