TRIPOLI: Output at Libya’s Al-Sharara oil field rose more Tuesday to over two thirds of full capacity and a pipeline shipping condensate – very light crude – to a western port reopened, marking progress in government efforts to rebuild vital exports.
Negotiations ended a protest by tribesmen at Al-Sharara over the weekend with production there climbing to 277,000 bpd Tuesday and expected to reach full capacity of 340,000 bpd by Wednesday, said a spokesman for National Oil Corp.
“I think if we keep up at this level we will reach capacity by tomorrow,” said the spokesman, Mohammad al-Harari.
The reopening of the Al-Sharara field in southern Libya, one of Libya’s largest, and of the Wafa pipeline feeding Mellitah port are good news for the central government in Tripoli which is struggling to end a six-month-long blockade of important eastern oil ports that has slashed shipments.
Al-Sharara oil field supplies crude to the western Zawiya export terminal and feeds the 120,000-bpd Zawiya refinery.
Libya’s navy said it opened fire Sunday after a Maltese flagged oil tanker tried to approach and load crude at Es Sider, one of the eastern ports seized by armed protesters demanding more autonomy. The vessel later headed toward Malta.
Negotiations to end that blockade have gone nowhere with eastern federalist protesters threatening to try to ship oil independently, and the government saying it will use force against vessels seeking to load at blockaded ports.
Libya’s armed forces warned they will take more robust action against tankers trying to illegally dock at the ports controlled by the autonomy protesters who are led by a former fighter in the 2011 uprising against Moammar Gadhafi.
“If a ship docks in one of the closed ports, and it does not leave the port again, then we will destroy it,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Said Abdul-Razig al-Shbahi. “We have clear instructions. This is sovereignty of the state, even the international law will be in our side.”
The eastern confrontation over oil is one of several fronts facing Libya’s fragile government two years after Gadhafi’s fall. Former rebels, militia fighters and tribesman often resort to force to make a variety of political demands on a state still struggling with a transition to democracy.
Protesters, who had blockaded the Al-Sharara field for two months, had been calling for the establishment of a local council and the granting of national identity cards for tribesmen from the Tuareg minority.
The pipeline carrying condensates from Wafa oil field to Mellitah port, cooperated by Italy’s ENI in the west, has also been reopened after protesters briefly blocked the line, with output now at around 30,000 bpd, the NOC said.
But the resumption of the southern Al-Sharara field was an important win for the government, and could lift Libya’s total output to 600,000 barrels a day. A wave of protests and strikes cut the OPEC member country’s total output to 250,000 bpd from 1.4 million in July.
Tripoli’s major challenge, though, remains in the east where armed protesters have taken over three key ports – Ras Lanouf, Es Sider and Zueitina, which previously accounted for 600,000 bpd in crude exports.