At the World Petroleum Congress panel in Qatar on Tuesday, Exxon Mobil Corporation executive Rex Tillerson shielded questions regarding his company's entrance into Kurdistan, CNN reported the same day.
The move has put ExxonMobil in the cross hairs of the Iraqi central government who maintains the exploration contracts the company signed with Kurdish officials last month are illegal.
Holding a press conference with reporters in Qatar after the congress panel, Tillerson declined to answer questions about the potential ramifications his company could face in the future, CNN reported. It was the second time Tuesday that he refused to answer a similar question, the first one being in an earlier panel discussion.
ExxonMobil entered an agreement on Nov. 11 with Kurdish officials to explore for oil and natural gas in the semi-autonomous region of Iraq. Five days later, Iraq officials announced the first of what would be a month of sharp rhetoric alluding to the tenuous nature of the company's previously approved contracts with Baghdad to the south of Iraq.
ExxonMobil's move into Kurdistan comes at a time when the Kurdish regional government expects to increase its oil exports to 175,000 barrels a day in 2012, up from the current 100,000 barrels.
Analysts say the country's central government is taking this hard-line approach because it is afraid it will lose its control over the region's mineral rights. Baghdad and Kurdistan are at odds over mineral, oil and royalty distribution rights, and the country has no functioning law to solve the dispute.
Since 2009 the U.S. oil company has had contract to develop and produce oil from Iraq's southern West Qurna field. On Nov. 30 Iraqi officials said that the company could be replaced by Shell and Lukoil in the region.
Officials with Shell and ExxonMobil refused to comment on the matter at the time.