(Adds official at Sharara, minor edits)
By Ahmed Elumami
TRIPOLI Dec 15 A group of oil guards in Libya
said on Thursday they had reopened a long blockaded pipeline
leading from the major oil fields of Sharara and El Feel, but an
oil worker said a separate group had prevented a production
restart at El Feel.
The apparent agreement by a faction of the Petroleum
Facilities Guard (PFG) in Rayana to open the pipeline after
shutting it for more than two years has raised hopes of a major
output boost from Sharara and El Feel, which together can
produce more than 400,000 barrels per day (bpd).
But the strength and scope of deals to resume production
from the fields is not clear, and officials and analysts say any
increase to output is likely to be gradual and fragile because
of technical problems and Libya's ongoing political turmoil.
The National Oil Corporation (NOC) has not confirmed any
resumption of production at the fields.
Libya is one of two members of the Organization of the
Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that is not bound by the
bloc's pledge to cut oil production by about 1.2 billion bpd
during the first half of 2017.
Its oil production has doubled to about 600,000 bpd since
September, when the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA)
took control of several blockaded ports and allowed the NOC to
reopen them. But it remains far below the 1.6 million bpd Libya
produced before its 2011 uprising.
While a jump in Libyan output is seen as one of the risks to
the OPEC deal, continued political rivalries and conflict are
likely to complicate efforts to bring output back towards past
The NOC has said it hopes to raise production to 900,000 bpd
in the near future, and to 1.1 million bpd next year.
It has been involved in negotiations with tribal leaders and
armed factions for months to reopen a valve at Rayana, a town on
the pipeline's route to the northern coast.
Mohamed Al-Gurj, a spokesman for the PFG faction in Rayana,
said a valve had been reopened on Wednesday, after coordination
between a PFG unit headed by Mohamed Basheer, an LNA commander
in the nearby town of Zintan, and the NOC. The PFG and military
officials had announced a deal on Wednesday.
But an oil worker from Mellitah Oil and Gas, which exports
oil from El Feel, said a separate PFG group from the local Tebu
ethnic group had prevented a restart there.
"El Feel oil field is not operating yet because the
petroleum facilities guards from the Tebu who guard the field
rejected the reopening," said the employee, speaking on
condition of anonymity. "Although we carried out a start-up
process last night, we were surprised by the PFG," he said.
An official from Sharara field, who also did not want to be
named, said there had been no instruction to resume pumping oil
Mazen Ramadan, an adviser to Libya's U.N.-backed government
in Tripoli, said the reopening of the valve at Rayana had been
agreed with representatives from the nearby town of Zintan,
following demands for local development and exemption from
prosecution for blockaders.
But he said he was taken aback by the PFG announcement. "We
contacted Zintan but they have denied that they have a unit of
PFG with this name," he said.
There has been no production at Sharara since the Rayana
valve was closed in November 2014, while El Feel continued some
production until April 2015. The NOC said in September the
pipeline closure had cost Libya $27 billion.
Output has also been interrupted in the past by rival armed
factions present at Sharara and El Feel, including from the Tebu
and Tuareg ethnic groups.
El Sharara is a joint venture between the NOC and Spain's
Repsol, with a production capacity of about 370,000
bpd. El Feel is run by the NOC and Italy's ENI with a
capacity of about 58,000 bpd.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by
Mark Potter and James Dalgleish)