Two years after Qadhafi, Libya's oil sector divided
By Stuart Elliott in London
October 29, 2013 - In October 2012, one year after the death of Libya's former dictator Moammar Qadhafi, state oil company NOC said the country's crude production had
rebounded to pre-war levels of 1.6 million b/d, and hopes were high that the
newly liberated state could boost output yet further.
Fast forward another year though, and the picture could hardly be any
more different, with output down to around 600,000 b/d and the industry in a
state of chaos.
Libya is divided. The west of the country -- with the major El Sharara
and Elephant (El Feel) fields producing almost at capacity -- looks something
like the Libya of old.
But in the east, the export terminals of Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Marsa
el-Hariga and Zueitina remain blockaded by security personnel, as they have
been since the early summer, with eastern oil production severely impacted as
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The de facto leader of the blockade is Ibrahim al-Jathran, a 33-year-old
anti-Qadhafi rebel who fought for control of the eastern oil ports during the
After Qadhafi's death, al-Jathran was given command of a government
taskforce, the Petroleum Defense Guards, to protect the country's oil
But it was al-Jathran who then in July this year ordered the closure of
the eastern oil ports as part of demands that Tripoli allow more political
autonomy for the eastern Cyrenaica region.
Something like independence for eastern Libya would pave the way for
exports from the region to resume, but outside of the control of NOC.
This would be catastrophic for the current Libyan regime.
But with the country's prime minister Ali Zeidan and its oil minister
Adbel Bari el-Arousi both ruling out using force to end the blockades, it's
hard to see how Tripoli can halt what looks like an inevitable regional
Supporters of greater autonomy for Cyrenaica are refusing to budge on
their demands for a federal state and in August made their third call for a
They have now been joined by tribal groups from Fezzan in the south, who
also want greater autonomy.
Eastern oil export restart?
Analysts believe the Libyan government is almost powerless to enforce the
restart of oil exports in the east of the country as this would likely have to
be in exchange for granting greater regional political autonomy.
"The federalist or autonomy demands being made by al-Jathran are unlikely
to be met by the central government," Geoff Porter, analyst at North Africa
Risk Consulting, told Platts October 25.
"The central government in Tripoli is afraid that any concessions to
al-Jathran would put Libya on a slippery slope to disintegration, with other
regions also demanding autonomy, decentralization, and greater regional
control," Porter said.
Al-Jathran, he said, is insisting on greater autonomy for eastern Libya
and greater control of the revenue that eastern Libya's oil facilities
But complicating matters further is that, within the current Libyan
regime, there are a number of entities that want a say.
"Although the government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan formed a crisis
committee in September 2013 to deal with the oil production disruption, the
committee does not have unfettered authority to resolve the crisis. The oil
ministry, NOC and the General National Congress's Energy Committee all also
feel as if they should have a say in the resolution of the crisis," Porter
said. "So, an ineffective and incoherent group is trying to navigate their way
past unrealistic demands."
Porter says that how the crisis ends is the key question.
"Seeing that it is very unlikely that Prime Minister Zeidan will resort
to force to end the standoff, two other scenarios present themselves. In the
first, al-Jathran simply loses momentum and support and eventually abandons
his objectives. In the second, the government in Tripoli implements a revenue
sharing plan with NOC's subsidiaries throughout the country. Of the two, the
second seems the more likely."
Article continues: Libya: Future developments