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Libya: if the potential closure of production sites becomes a reflection of the country's internal divisions

The latest threat to interrupt gas supplies concerns the Mellitah complex, west of Tripoli


© Agenzia Nova - Reproduction reserved

The protests in front of the gas complex of Mellitah – the only hub for the export of Libyan gas to Italy through the gas pipeline Greenstream – bring attention to Libya's fragile stability and internal divisions. The current international context, characterized by the continuation of the conflict in Ukraine and tensions in the Middle East, has led the international community to dedicate less space to the North African country, where multiple actors have interests, sometimes divergent, not helping to overcome internal rifts. The potential energy crisis that could be triggered by the closure of the Sharara plants - which has already occurred - and Mellitah appears to be an attempt by one or more actors to break the deadlock. According to the authorities in eastern Libya, but not only, one of those responsible for the current stasis is the prime minister of the Government of National Unity (Gun), Abdulhamid Dabaiba, whose mandate expired on 24 December 2021, in charge of ferrying the country towards the elections. However, failure to achieve this objective makes him unpopular with some, who, through the leverage of energy supplies, may have an interest in making him lose credibility.

The latest threat to interrupt gas supplies concerns the Mellitah complex, west of Tripoli, where demonstrators from the "Eradicate Corruption" movement reiterated the ultimatum to the Government of National Unity (GUN, based in Tripoli). which expires on Friday 12 January to implement their requests, threatening to close the gas complex, the only hub for the export of Libyan gas to Italy through the Greenstream pipeline, if they are not satisfied. The request came on Tuesday, January 9, during a demonstration in which participants called for the dismissal of the president of the National Oil Corporation (NOC), Farhat Bengdara, held responsible for concluding agreements that damage the public interest. It is worth underlining that among the protesters of the "Eradicate Corruption" movement also appears Shaaban Hadiya, originally from Zawiya, west of Tripoli, who lived in Turkey for a certain period of time. Hadiya, also known as Abu Obeida, took part in the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) operation in 2014 and for this reason was associated with the Islamists of Ansar al Shari'a. It should also be noted that Abu Obeida had ample space last summer in the media linked to General Khalifa Haftar. Beyond Abu Obeida's past connections, one of the members of the “Eradicate Corruption” movement told “Agenzia Nova” that “it is a local movement, not linked to external forces and its only objective is to conclude agreements while preserving the interest of the Libyans”.

The protest is part of the context of the controversy that erupted in Libya over negotiations with a consortium led by Eni with the French Total, theEmirates Adnoc and the Turkish Tpao for the development of the onshore Hamada field, east of Ghadames. The agreement - carried out by the Noc and which should be signed at the end of January - has been criticized by institutions such as the Ministry of Petroleum, the House of Representatives and the High Council of State because it is considered disadvantageous for the Libyan side and does not comply with the Libyan laws. For its part, the Libyan Government of National Unity (GUN) led by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba, in an expanded meeting of the Supreme Council for Energy and Water Affairs, stated that all technical observations will be taken into consideration, but he said Libya must "increase oil and gas production" by developing "new discoveries" with "foreign and internal investments", in full respect "of the rights of the Libyan state".

Libya can export up to 10 billion cubic meters of gas to Italy per year via the pipeline that connects Sicily to the gas fields of the North African country, but in 2022 Libyan production of natural gas decreased by 8 percent. According to the Libyan Audit Bureau, the total quantity exported last year to Italy via the Greenstream gas pipeline did not exceed 2,48 billion cubic meters, equal to 10 percent of the estimated total gross production of 24,40 billion cubic meters : a modest result compared to the potential, mainly due to the progressive depletion of existing deposits, Libyan infrastructure deficiencies and gas flaring (the wasteful combustion of gas that is released spontaneously in the extraction phase, a highly polluting phenomenon, widespread especially in eastern Libya ).

On Sunday 7 January the NOC declared a state of force majeure - i.e. the impossibility of delivering cargoes of crude oil to customers - in the Sharara field, the largest in Libya with an output of around 270 thousand barrels of crude oil per day, by the Fezzan Gathering, a collective made up of notables from Fezzan (the southern Libyan region) supported by the forces of Libyan general Khalifa Haftar. The closure of the field, which occurred on January 3, caused the cessation of crude oil supplies to the port of Zawiya, the NOC highlighted in a note, underlining that "negotiations are currently underway in an attempt to resume production as soon as possible" .

Meanwhile, El Feel (Elephant), a field located in the Murzuq basin and operated by Eni, remains open (at least for now), despite the state of force majeure imposed on the nearby Shararto. Some observers have mistakenly reported the closure of El Feel, whose northward oil transportation lines pass through Sharara. But the oil site (which extracts, when fully operational, around 70 thousand barrels of the Bu Attifel quality, low in sulfur and very easy to refine) continues to be open, according to what "Agenzia Nova" has learned from sources present on site.

The crude oil production of Libya, equal to about 1,2 million barrels per day, is equivalent to about 1 percent of global oil demand. The country produced 1,19 million barrels per day in November, according to estimates by the specialized agency "Argus Media". Libya ended 2023 with oil exports increasing by 8 percent in December, reaching 1,05 million barrels per day. Cargoes to Libya's main Mediterranean and northwestern European markets rose 2 percent from November, reaching 829 barrels a day last month, supported by increased exports to Italy and Spain. Exports to Asia-Pacific also increased, while transatlantic shipments decreased.

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