LONDON (Reuters) - Oil exports from Iraq’s southern terminals have edged lower so far in March, according to loading data and an industry source, although not as much as expected, potentially raising questions over the country’s compliance with OPEC production cuts.
A March loading programme had pointed to southern exports from OPEC’s second-largest producer falling to 3 million barrels per day (bpd), which a source familiar with the matter said was related to Iraqi efforts to comply with OPEC cuts.
But exports from southern Iraq - the outlet for most of the country’s crude - in the first 14 days of March have averaged 3.25 million bpd, according to shipping data tracked by Reuters and by an industry source.
Two Iraqi oil officials said on Wednesday the rate in the first half of March was 3.20 million bpd. Whichever is used, exports remain closer to February’s 3.27 million bpd than to the rate implied by the March loading programme.
The lack of a large further drop in exports could add to scepticism in the market about compliance with the OPEC supply cut deal by Iraq, which in negotiations had argued it should be exempt due to a need for cash to fight Islamic State militants.
“Exports look similar to February,” the industry source who tracks Iraq’s southern shipments said. “To be fair, the market wasn’t expecting them to cut.”
The OPEC cut started on Jan. 1. Iraq says it is committed to the deal and another industry source said Iraq had cut production by more than the 210,000 bpd reduction it was required to under the OPEC accord.
It is not possible to draw firm conclusions about production from a few weeks of export data, not least because the deal by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other independent producers applies to output, not exports.
Iraq’s exports can be volatile day-to-day, affected by bad weather and technical snags among other factors.
The bulk of Iraq’s oil is exported via the southern terminals. Smaller amounts are shipped from northern Iraq via Ceyhan in Turkey.
Northern exports have averaged about 430,000 bpd so far in March, shipping data shows, down from about 600,000 bpd in February according to a Reuters calculation based on Iraqi figures.
This could be related to a plan to trim exports of Kirkuk crude to deliver fuel for local needs and to a brief stoppage in flows when Kurdish forces stormed an oil facility in protest at the Iraqi government’s oil policy.
Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Mark Potter