What Type of Crude Is Kirkuk Crude?

Written by theon weber
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What Type of Crude Is Kirkuk Crude?
Kirkuk oil is a heavy crude. (oil well image by michael langley from Fotolia.com)

The oilfields at Kirkuk, Iraq, are the source of a large proportion of Iraq's oil and have been for decades. Kirkuk oil is a heavy crude, and its quality and the efficiency of the oilfields have deteriorated over years of possibly mismanaged pumping. As of 2010, the future of efficient oil production at Kirkuk is in doubt.


Oil was discovered beneath the Iraqi city of Kirkuk in 1927. According to GlobalSecurity.org, today the Kirkuk fields still produce more than 1 million barrels of oil a day, almost half of Iraq's total oil exports. Kirkuk is thus an extremely important strategic location, and after the fall of Saddam Hussein, it became the main city in a proposed Kurdish state within Iraq.


According to the Energy Information Administration, as reported by Oilgasarticles.com, Kirkuk oil has an average API gravity of 36, meaning its density is about 85 per cent that of water and it weighs around seven pounds a gallon. Its sulphur content stands at around 2 per cent, although sulphur rose suddenly to more than 2 per cent in the months immediately preceding the 2003 U.S. invasion. Kirkuk oil is thus considered a low-quailty, heavy crude. Its thickness makes it relatively expensive to pump out of the ground, and its yield when converted to gasoline is relatively low.

Reserves and Production

According to GlobalSecurity.org, in 2006 it was estimated that the 85-year-old Kirkuk fields contained another 8.7 billion barrels of reserve oil. Kirkuk's estimated optimal production rate is 250,000 barrels a day, but for many years Iraqi production at the field approached 1 million barrels.


Mismanagement of the Kirkuk fields under Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party is believed by some analysts to have severely damaged the oil reserves. The fields were likely overpumped (particularly in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion), which allowed for the damaging leakage of water into the oil reserves. Reinjection of excess fuel oil and refinery residue also may have caused many problems at Kirkuk, including a severe increase in oil viscosity, resulting in a much more expensive pumping process.


After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Shell Oil Co. was appointed to study the Kirkuk field, and the Iraq Oil Ministry began working with Shell to improve equipment and practices in Kirkuk and significantly boost the field's production. Despite this, Kirkuk is an old and possibly damaged field, and it is unclear for how much longer it will produce oil efficiently.

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