Feature: PetroChina's oil field project in Iraq turns wasteland into vibrant town

BAGHDAD, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) -- In what used to be a wasteland in the southern Iraqi province of Maysan, a super-giant oil field, along with a vibrant town, has been built from scratch by PetroChina, one of the first Chinese companies that participated in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.

PetroChina's Halfaya oil field has now grown into a mega complex that covers an area of 288 square km, about three times the size of Paris city. It contains more than 300 oil wells, three crude oil central processing facilities, two power plants, a water treatment plant, a civil airport, an office and living base camp, and a natural gas processing plant under construction.

The oil field is the largest project PetroChina undertakes overseas in its capacity as operator, according to He Yanhui, acting general manager for exploring and production in the Halfaya field.

"So far, after three phases of construction, we have built here a large and modern oil field, with an annual production of 20 million tonnes," he said, adding Iraqi officials have praised PetroChina's important role in boosting the country's oil industry and economic development.

Fang Jiazhong, head of PetroChina's Halfaya Oil Field, explained that the Chinese energy giant, in association with several international and local companies, won the bidding for the Halfaya project in 2009.

Over the years, the project has become an important oil production site for Iraq, a country that heavily relies on oil and gas production to emerge from the shadow of war.

"PetroChina has not only created huge economic wealth for Iraq over the past 10 years, but also actively participated in local social and industrial welfare projects, building kindergartens, providing water, electricity, roads, and other infrastructure and training," Fang said.

The largest Chinese oil and gas producer and supplier has turned the Halfaya project into a convincing demonstration of the true value of the Belt and Road Initiative, which promotes equal, inclusive, and win-win cooperation, he said, adding the project "laid a good foundation for friendly cooperation in energy production between China and Iraq."

The Halfaya project also "provided many job opportunities for Iraqis and encouraged more Chinese companies to enter the Iraqi market," Fang noted.

With the growth of the Halfaya project, its Iraqi employees have also been growing.

Aws Haitham, a local worker responsible for the company's training department, told Xinhua that there are more than 1,600 Iraqis currently working with the company.

"We are proud of the training programs we have here. PetroChina is like a school that teaches Iraqi workers," Haitham said, praising his Chinese colleagues whom he described as kind and helpful to the Iraqi employees.

Mohammed Sadiq Jaafar joined PetroChina in 2012 and is now in charge of the depots in the oil field. He progressed in his position by benefiting from the company's training and incentives.

"I gained a lot of experience working for PetroChina and from its numerous training courses, which gave me more knowledge on safety and modern and advanced warehouse systems," said Jaafar, who now oversees 11 petroleum and drilling materials warehouses, four chemical materials warehouses, and four drilling pipe yards.

In addition to providing jobs for Iraqis and bringing revenues to the Arab country, PetroChina's Halfaya also attaches great importance to environmental protection.

The Chinese company is constructing a natural gas processing plant in the Halfaya oil field that will help make better use of the natural gas produced along with crude oil, known as associated gas, said Ou Yangwen, manager of PetroChina Halfaya's department for quality, health, safety, and environmental protection.

Ou said the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2023 and "the associated gas extracted from the field will be converted into energy products, which will not only improve people's livelihood but also protect the environment."

PetroChina has invested more than 1 billion U.S. dollars to build the gas processing plant, which turns the associated gas into liquefied natural gas, sulfur, and other products, he added.

The Chinese energy giant also has a waste liquid recycling system and a mechanism to regularly monitor the environment around the oil field, Ou noted.

In addition, PetroChina built a waste recycling center to treat scrap metal and waste batteries, planted thousands of trees and dug out many artificial lakes, according to Ou.

All the success has resulted from the joint efforts of PetroChina Halfaya's Chinese and Iraqi workers. For years, they have had to overcome difficulties such as the harsh environment, the tight timetable of the projects, and even the dangers of being caught in a fight between local tribes or militias.

The old landmines left since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s also pose a danger.

"I can say that from 2010 until now, we have built a small town on this wasteland, including oil, gas, power, water, telecommunications, and roads," said Du Bo, deputy manager of the engineering and construction department of PetroChina Halfaya.

"We build all of these step by step. It's really not easy," he told Xinhua.

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Xinhua Middle East news summary at 2200 GMT, Dec. 7

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