TRIPOLI: Output at Libya’s El Sharara oilfield rose more yesterday 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 El Sharara over the weekend with production there climbing to 277,000bpd yesterday and expected to reach full capacity of 340,000bpd by today, said a spokesman for the National Oil Corp. “I think if we keep up at this level we will reach capacity by tomorrow,” the spokesman, Mohamed Al Harari, said.
The reopening of the El 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.
El Sharara supplies crude to the western Zawiya export terminal and feeds the 120,000-bpd Zawiya refinery.
Libya’s navy said it opened fire on 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 towards 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 Muammar Gaddafi.
“If a ship docks in one of the closed ports, and it does not leave the port again, then we will destroy it,” said Defence 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 Gaddafi’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 El 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 oilfield to Mellitah port, co-operated by Italy’s ENI in the west, has also been reopened after protesters briefly blocked the line, with output now at around 30,000bpd, the NOC said.