Forces loyal to Libya’s eastern leader Khalifa Haftar have taken control of the country’s biggest oil field and say the deposit is secure and ready to resume production.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army fanned out in the southwestern Sharara field, people with knowledge of the matter confirmed. Armed protesters had closed down the 300,000 barrel-per-day deposit in December, demanding more money and investment in the remote region.
“Sharara is completely secure and ready to resume pumping,” LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said in a telephone interview. “The guards at the field handed over the field to our forces peacefully.”
The LNA had pledged earlier to hand the field over to the National Oil Corp. once it was fully secured. “Restarting production is the jurisdiction of the Tripoli-based NOC,” al-Mismari said.
There was no immediate comment from the NOC. It wasn’t immediately possible to verify the specific locations of various forces in the area of the field.
Libya holds Africa’s largest crude reserves, and the lack of clarity about troop movements and security in the south had cast doubt on the nation’s plan to boost output to 2.1 million barrels a day by the end of 2021. Libya’s internal turmoil led the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in December to exempt it from participating in global production cuts.
Al-Mismari said earlier that Haftar’s forces had entered the main oil-producing area of Sharara without a fight, days after arriving at substation unit NC-186, about 30 kilometers away. “It was a non-violent operation with no weapons used,” he said. “All the oil installations are sound and undamaged.”
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 towards Sharara has stoked fears among Haftar’s foes and increased concern in the oil market about the stability of supply.
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.