The Libyan Petroleum Sector Entering A New Political Age

Since the 17th February Revolution in 2011 – which saw Muammar Gaddafi’s old regime being ousted –the Libyan oil and gas sector has been disrupted.

Although in August 2011 the petroleum production started to recover quickly, this recovery did not last long due to the conflicts between local armed groups led by either Marshal Khalifa Haftar or Fayez Al- Serraj. Subsequently, oil production and exports were disabled for a while. Workers started striking in July 2013, ceasing the Gulf of Sirte oil terminals.

In 2014, local competition started emerging with the aim to control oilfields, leading to further disruptions in the oil export terminals. Mabruk oil field became managed by local militias, while al-Ghani oilfield in the Sirte Basin was attacked by those militias in February and March 2015. After three years of continuous expansion by Haftar, he launched a military campaign on Derna in 2018 and another military operation to control the Libyan capital Tripoli in 2019.

After almost completely taking over El Sharara and El Feel fields, Haftar was finally outmaneuvered. The civil conditions that followed became increasingly more complex, especially after Haftar was defeated by the terrorist militants in Gharyan, southwest of Tripoli in June 2019. Politically speaking, the two powerful Libyan men were said to be accused of obtaining military support outside their powers.

Libyan Petroleum Sector at an Economic Level

Libya’s economy is dependent on its petroleum sector. The petroleum sector contributes about 69% of the country’s exports, where crude oil exports reached 998,500 barrels per day (b/d), natural gas exports reached 4.25 billion cubic meters, and petroleum products exports recorded 25,400 b/d in 2018. Crude oil reserves recorded 48.3 billion in 2018. The country also has a refinery capacity of 380,000 barrels per day (b/d). Essentially, the oil and gas sector represents about 60% of Libya’s GDP.

El Sharara and El Feel oil fields are the largest fields in Libya. The National Oil Corporation (NOC) Chairman Mustafa Sanalla, stated that El Feel field has been shut down again in December 2019, causing a loss of about 73,000 b/d. The field’s production capacity could reach 90,000 b/d but had been producing 73,000 to 75,000 b/d in recent weeks. El Feel and Sharara oil fields produce crude oil of about 120,000 b/d from Zawiya refinery.

Between Opponents, Proponents

Haftar garnered support from a number of countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Russia, France and the US. As for his rival, Al-Serraj, he depended on the support of Qatar and Turkey solely.

The current instability threatens oil companies, especially BP and ENI, however, they announced their return to Libya after they ceased their operations more than once and are scheduled to start 2020.

The US, Russia

Recently, the US became a supporter for Marshal Haftar since a phone call in April 2019 between the US President Donald Trump and Haftar, discussing the future democratic path in Libya. Haftar’s role was often praised by Trump in combating terrorism and securing oil resources in Libya.

Haftar received military studies in Russia and visited Moscow several times in recent years, specifically in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Moreover, Haftar was honored during a grand ceremony held on the Russian aircraft carrier Kuznetsov in January 2017. It is expected that there will be no Great Russian expansion in Libya as Russia is still considered a part of the conflict partners in Syria.

France, Italy

Supporting the United Nations (UN)-led peace processes, France attempted to play the strong mediator role by bringing Haftar and Al-Serraj together at the same table in July 2017 and in May 2018, but without any success. France denies providing any support to the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces in its attack on Tripoli, although there were French missiles found inside Haftar’s military base near Tripoli in July 2019.

Italy, on the other hand, is still highly interested in its former colony, Libya, especially through its oil company Eni. Italy criticized France for playing the mediating role. Thus, Rome deals cautiously with Marshal Hafter, who controls most of the oil fields located in the Eastern Libyan, to avoid the expansion of the French Total at the expense of Eni.

Turkey, Qatar

Haftar accused Qatar with supplying his opponent with weapons. Qatar regularly reiterates its accusation to Haftar of obstructing external efforts and international support by other countries.

Meanwhile, Turkey is part of the Libyan conflict and declared its support for the National Accord government through supplying the Libyan forces with drones, vehicles and weapons in 2019. There were two signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) on security and maritime cooperation between Turkey and Al-Serraj.

Egypt, Greece

On the sidelines of the two signed MoUs between Turkey and Libya’s government, the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, and the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, and condemned Turkish intervention in Libya. Shoukry and Dendias agreed to build exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the sea near their countries’ borders to protect their oil and gas resources in the Mediterranean Region from any external attacks to avoid the repetition of the Libyan and Syrian crises’ scenarios. It was mentioned that Serraj is not allowed to participate in any legally-binding international agreements without the acknowledgement and agreement of Libya’s cabinet on board.

The Libyan NOC mentioned that the Egyptian oil companies intended to continue their activity in Libya despite the civil war to increase the Libyan oil production.

The UAE, Gulf Countries

The UAE is more involved than Saudi Arabia in the Libyan conflict, where the UAE and Jordan were accused by UN experts of supplying military material to Haftar’s forces. Concerning Saudi Arabia, King Salman personally received Marshal Haftar in March 2019, although Saudi Arabia is still focusing more on the war in Yemen, leaving its Emirati ally in the front row regarding the Libyan file.

Tunisia, Algeria

The Turkish President Reep Tayyip Erdoğan made an unexpected visit to Tunisia to discuss the developments in Libya. Tunisia, Algeria, and Qatar participated in the Berlin Conference in January 2020, concerning the Libyan issue. Tunisia announced that it will not be part of any coalition and condemned statements mentioned by Libya’s Minister of Interior. On the other hand, foreign journalists were not allowed to join a press conference by Erdoğan and Tunisia’s President Kais Saied.

Meanwhile Algeria is a neutral country, denying any foreign intervention in the countries’ issues. Algeria’s borders are threatened by the terrorists’ acts and wars in Libya. The Egyptian and the Algerian-led efforts, have failed to achieve any improvement for the crisis.

Potential Scenarios

There are three expected potential scenarios for the Libyan future. The first scenario is that Haftar will succeed to set his power over Tripoli. The Presidential Council will be expected to break down as a result for Al-Serraj’s connections with extremist militias in Tripoli and Misrata and the failure of any Turkish endeavors to support it. The second scenario is that Turkey will still support Tripoli and Misrata forces with equipment. The third scenario is that the Egyptian military and other countries’ military will intervene in order to maintain the Egyptian national security and protect the Libyan coasts against any potential exterior intervention. Concerning the plans set by the Libyan government, the country intends to preserve its crude production at its current level of between 1.25 million and 1.3 million b/d, as cited by Sanalla.




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