BP said it is suspending preparations to drill in the Libyan desert as its contractors pull out over unrest, while other operators intend to evacuate expatriate staff from the North African country.

Production has also stopped at the Nafoora oilfield in Libya’s Sirte basin because workers are striking, Al Jazeera television reported without giving further details.

The field is operated by Arabian Gulf Oil Company, based in Benghazi, according to its website. The company could not immediately be contacted, and there was no independent confirmation of the report, according to Reuters.

BP’s move could be a blow for the UK supermajor, which signed a deal worth at least $900 million to explore in Libya in 2007, saying at the time it was its largest single exploration commitment. Its offshore operations are continuing as normal.

A BP spokesman, quoted by Dow Jones, said “some [drilling contractors] that are working there are being evacuated as a precaution” from the company’s onshore operation.

“We are suspending preparations” for drilling in the south-west Ghadames basin, which was planned to start around this spring, he said. The acreage is expected to be rich in natural gas.

However, the BP spokesman said “offshore seismic work is still going on” in the Sirte basin where the company is due to start drilling by the end of June.

He also said “we are making make plans to evacuate” some non-essential staff and families.

Norwegian oil giant Statoil also said it was closing its office and pulling out its expatriate workers.

A Statoil spokesman said “a handful of expats… are leaving the country due to the current situation”.

“We have decided to close the office in Tripoli,” he added. The company is a partner in fields but doesn’t operate them.

Austria’s OMV said none of its operations in Libya had been affected by the unrest there but added it was withdrawing expatriate staff from the country, Reuters reported.

“Due to the current situation, we reduce our personnel to the business essential staff. All other OMV expatriates and the families will be withdrawn from the country,” company spokeswoman Michaela Huber said, adding that OMV’s operations and production there were unaffected.

However, Russian natural gas giant Gazprom said it is working in Libya as usual and no staff have been evacuated.

(Source: upstreamonline)