Despite objections from Baghdad, ExxonMobil already has personnel on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to Reuters.
Whiel the company has kept silent on its exploration agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), one central government regards as illegal, one Western industry source in Erbil told the news agency:
"They [Exxon] are definitely here and they are definitely assessing living and working accommodation ... There are around 10 individuals here at any one time looking at what it takes to fully mobilise here - office space, housing space, these types of things. No oil company comes in in a day."
Executives from Exxon reportedly met Ashti Hawrami, the region's Natural Resources Minister, last week, and are preparing to issue a tender for seismic work for at least some of the six exploration blocks acquired in October.
Exxon has been summoned to the oil ministry in Baghdad for final talks, but it is unclear whether the discussions would take place before the company's fourth quarter results on 31st January, when it is expected to publicly announce its Kurdistan investment.
In the meantime, however, it is business as usual at Exxon's West Qurna-1 field in the south of the country, where output has risen to about 390,000 barrels per day, and where Exxon continues to lead a multi-billion dollar water injection project that is crucial to boosting output in the area.
The KRG is in talks with other oil majors and further agreements are expected in the coming months. Sources say France's Total, which has a minority stake in the Halfaya oil field in southern Iraq, is keen to move into the north, possibly linking up with Anglo-French explorer Perenco in the Sindi-Amedi block along the Turkish border.
A Lukoil spokesman, on the other hand, dismissed the possibility of the Russian company heading north.
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