LONDON/TRIPOLI Libya's efforts to end a three-month stranglehold on its oil industry were dealt a significant blow when exports dropped to 20 percent of capacity following new protests at the weekend at major western fields and ports.
The OPEC producer's crude oil exports have fallen to less than 250,000 barrels per day, according to Reuters calculations, compared with a capacity of around 1.25 million bpd and around 500,000 bpd earlier this month.
Residents in the local area entered facilities at the 330,000 bpd El Sharara oilfield to demonstrate on Saturday. The field provides crude for the western port of Zawiya and its 120,000 bpd refinery, a National Oil Corp (NOC) official said on Monday,
As a result, exports have been suspended from the port of Zawiya, which had been exporting around 200,000 bpd on average in October, according to shipping data.
Protesters have also occupied the western port of Mellitah.
Output from the western oilfields and ports had been relatively stable in recent weeks after a partial recovery. The weekend shutdown came as a step backwards in Libya's efforts to end the worst disruption to its oil industry since the 2011 civil war.
International Brent crude oil prices rose following the port shutdowns, up 67 cents at $107.60 a barrel at 1219 GMT. U.S. crude oil prices were down 24 cents a barrel at the same time.
MELLITAH STAND-OFF CONTINUES
Minority Amazigh, or Berber tribesmen, protested on Sunday at the Mellitah terminal, operated jointly by Italy's ENI (ENI.MI) and NOC, threatening to block exports unless their demands for more constitutional rights are met, a company official said.
The initial effect on crude oil exports, which were averaging around 60,000 bpd, was unclear.
The Amazigh tribesmen were in a stand-off with other local residents at the port on Monday, Libyan port sources said. These locals were trying to keep the port in operation to ensure that gas and fuel supplies arrive to support the strained power grid.
The 130,000 bpd El Feel field, which feeds the port, was still operational, trading and local sources said.
Tripoli has struggled to reach a deal with the groups of protesters, some of which are demanding a greater share of the oil wealth.
Libya's prime minister was briefly kidnapped in early October, in a sign the central government is increasingly isolated.
Libya has been relying on its western ports since the summer as protests in the east have blocked the bulk of its exports by shutting major ports and fields.
In the east, loadings at the Brega terminal were still suspended after power problems forced most of the output to be shut in over a week ago, shipping and trading sources said.
"Brega production is very low, so no exports," one of the sources said.
(Editing by Jason Neely and Jane Baird)
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