- Eastern leader takes Sharara field in push to secure southwest
- Sharara field has been offline since December due to dispute
Forces loyal to Libya’s eastern leader Khalifa Haftar have taken control of the country’s largest oil field and pledged to hand it over to the National Oil Corporation once it’s fully secured.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army had fanned out in Sharara, people with knowledge of the matter confirmed, as speculation mounted that a deal was reached with guards and armed protesters who closed down the 300,000 barrel-per-day field in December, demanding more money and investment in the remote southwestern region.
In a telephone interview, LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said forces had entered the main oil-producing area of Sharara without a fight, days after arriving at substation unit NC-186, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) away. The LNA was still working to secure the field against long-range weapons and there was no plan to enter the nearby El Feel field for now, he said.
“We need to secure the field completely then we will hand it over to the National Oil Corporation like we handed over Ras Lanuf,” he said. “We want to assure the oil market that Sharara will return to production soon.”
“It was a non-violent operation with no weapons used. All the oil installations are sound and undamaged.”
There was no immediate comment from the NOC. It was not immediately possible to verify to the specific locations of various forces.
The developments follow days of conflicting reports about the situation in the southwest and whether the United Nations-backed authorities in Tripoli had dispatched forces to confront Haftar. The LNA clashed some days ago with fighters loyal to Ali Kana, a supporter of the Tripoli government in the west, raising concern that a new war was brewing close to some of the country’s most valuable energy installations.
The LNA, Libya’s largest and best-organized military force, already controls the so-called oil crescent, a coastal area containing the major exporting terminals. Its push southward toward Sharara has stoked fears among Haftar’s foes and increased concern in the oil market about stability of supply in the nation with Africa’s largest proven crude reserves.
The LNA has called on the NOC to lift the force majeure in place at Sharara, a joint venture between the NOC, Repsol SA, Total SA, OMV AG and Equinor ASA, Force majeure is a legal status protecting a party from liability if it can’t fulfill a contract for reasons beyond its control. However, the NOC hasn’t yet issued instructions to restart production at the field.
The lack of clarity about what’s happening in the south had cast doubt on Libya’s plan to boost output to 2.1 million barrels a day by the end of 2021. The nation’s internal turmoil led the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in December to exempt Libya from participating in global production cuts.
— With assistance by Saleh Sarrar