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A Decade of Exploration in The Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Abstract

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is perhaps the world's largest onshore discontinuity to emerge in the new millennium. The region has witnessed extraordinary levels of exploration activity since the first exploration well to be drilled in three decades was spudded in 2005. Since that time over 180 wells have been drilled. Whilst the region is proximal to many of the giant and supergiant fields of Iran and Iraq, the reservoirs in which discoveries have been made are largely different. In Iraq a large percentage of discovered reserves reside in Tertiary and Cretaceous sediments capped by Tertiary evaporite sequences. Over much of Kurdistan, particularly the north and north eastern parts of the region, Tertiary strata are absent. A decade ago many were doubtful that significant quantities of hydrocarbons could be trapped in the absence of the Tertiary evaporite sequences. Furthermore, whilst the presence of large surface structures and significant oil seeps were encouraging to some, to others it fueled concerns about trap leakage. Against this background a number of entrepreneurial companies negotiated Production Sharing Contracts with the Kurdistan Regional Government and began hydrocarbon exploration. In a region almost devoid of sub surface data, early explorationists went ‘back to basics’ undertaking field work, structural restorations based on surface measurements and geochemical evaluation of surface oil seeps and potential source rocks. Freely available satellite image data was invaluable as was the work undertaken by a number of early workers including the Iraq Petroleum Company. Today the majority of the surface anticlinal features in Kurdistan have been drilled, though they remain to be fully evaluated. Almost all of this exploration activity has taken place on 2D seismic data sets with vertical exploration wells. Only a handful of 3D seismic surveys have been acquired and small number of horizontal wells have recently been drilled, some with impressive results. Advanced techniques commonly used for exploiting tight fractured carbonates have not as yet been used in the region. Challenges remain in what is a structurally complex and recently deformed region; however, significant new reserves have been discovered in less than a decade of activity. New pipeline infrastructure has recently been completed and it is likely that the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will develop to become an important contributor to world oil and gas production.