BENGHAZI, (Reuters) – Libyan rebels could resume oil output at two large fields in the east of the country within 3 weeks in a bid to ease fuel shortages and potentially restore some supply to global markets, absent since war broke at the start of the year.
“Our fields are under maintenance and we’re still waiting for security,” Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager at Libya’s Arabian Gulf Oil Company (AGOCO), which is operating the Sarir and Mesla fields, told Reuters.
“When the security is OK we will start. Perhaps two or three weeks after the improvement in security. In three weeks maybe,” he said.
OPEC member Libya is the third-largest oil producer in Africa and holds the continent’s largest oil reserves. It produced 1.6 million barrels of oil a day before an uprising against leader Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year-rule erupted in February.
The rebels stopped pumping oil to Mediterranean export terminals under their control after pro-Gaddafi forces attacked oil facilities in the desert.
But as the rebels have dramatically advanced in the past days, the government of Gaddafi seems to be increasingly isolated in its stronghold of Tripoli.
The Sarir and Mesla fields have total capacity of around 250,000 barrels per day or around one sixth of Libya’s total pre-war capacity.
Mayouf said security was not yet good enough to resume operations: “There are some clashes, small clashes, but for the fields, it’s very dangerous,” he said.
He said the Sarir field could produce 200,000 bpd and Mesla 50,000 to 60,000 bpd.
The loss of Libyan light, high quality crude crippled the oil markets earlier this year, pushing oil prices to as high as $127 a barrel, nearing its July 2008 all-time peak of $147.
Analysts and industry observers have said a return of Libyan crude to the market would become a major bearish factor for prices but warned that it would take up to 3 years for Libya to fully restore its output.