TRIPOLI: New protests have shut down several Libyan oil fields, cutting output by around a third, industry sources said, as Libya struggles to maintain stability in an industry vital to the economy and state revenue. Workers calling for management change shut down production at several fields belonging to Zueitina Oil Company Monday, while a separate security dispute resulted in the closing of the Sharara field.
“We are demanding a change in management,” an engineer working at the Zueitina terminal said, adding that the demands are related to a dispute over work conditions.
“The protest started at the 103 D field then spread to 103 A and Zala oil fields, and now the port has been affected too,” he said. “Yesterday the oil minister went to one of the fields to talk with the protesters.”
The protests are the latest in a series over the past year. Libya’s new leadership has struggled to impose authority on a number of armed groups in a country awash with weapons left over from the 2011 war that ousted Moammar Gadhafi.
The engineer said the protest would not affect local gas supplies from Zueitina as Libya prepared for the fasting month of Ramadan. “But all oil exports are affected,” he added.
Closing down oil exports would affect other fields that pump to Zueitina’s export terminal in eastern Libya such as Abu Attifel, operated by Mellitah – a joint venture between Libya’s National Oil Corporation and Italy’s Eni company.
A Zueitina official from the company’s media office said only, “There are demonstrations in Zueitina’s fields.”
Separately, Libya’s Sharara oil field, which can pump around 350,000 barrels per day, was shut as an armed group objected to the naming of another group of guards to help supervise security at the facility, three sources familiar with the matter said.
“The field is shut down,” a senior Libyan oil industry source said.
“A decision was taken by the operator, National Oil Corporation, and the Oil Ministry to conduct a safe shutdown given a conflicting situation around the oil field,” he added without giving further details.
Two other sources said the armed group that was originally part of the force guarding Sharara field had forced the shutdown.
They said this happened on the same day that other members of this group attacked the headquarters of Libya’s Petroleum Facilities Guard in Tripoli Tuesday.
“There was no other option other than to shut down. The field is not working right now,” said a Sharara worker, who was not at the field Monday but is familiar with the situation.
The PFG operates under the official remit of the Defense Ministry, but only about 2,000 of its 15,000 members have had training from the military. The rest are former rebels who fought to oust Gadhafi.
Sharara, in southwest Libya, is operated by Akakus, a joint venture between Libya’s state energy firm, the NOC and Spain’s Repsol.
Neither the NOC nor Repsol could immediately be reached for comment.
Libya normally produces around 1.6 million bpd, but the NOC said last month output had fallen below 1 million bpd due to protests.
It had partially recovered to 1.3 million bpd before the latest disruptions. The senior oil industry source said output now stood at 1.16 million bpd.