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FACTDROP: Libya in power struggle over oil group


Libya in power struggle over oil group

Πηγή: FT
By Javier Blas
12 Sep. 2011

A regional power struggle is emerging over Libya’s energy wealth as the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi compete to host the powerful state-owned National Oil Company.

The battle for the NOC, the most important company in Libya, comes as the country grapples with economic and political reconstruction following the revolution that ended Col Muammer Gaddafi’s 42-year regime.

The tussle so far appears to focus on job creation and regional prestige rather than on oil revenues, which account for 95 per cent of the country’s income. Libya earned last year $44bn from oil exports, according to the US department of energy.

The NOC headquarters have been in Tripoli since the early 1970s, a few years after the coup d’etat that brought Col Gaddafi to power. But the company was originally founded in Benghazi in 1968, when the eastern city was the centre of Libya’s nascent oil industry.

Benghazi politicians, businessmen and the “17th February Committee for Oil and Gas” – a grouping of workers from the industry – are now pushing to relocate the company back to Benghazi. The embryonic movement has sympathetic ears among some members of the ruling National Transitional Council, officials said.

“The big oilfields are near Benghazi,” said Yousif Al Gheriani, head of the 17th February Committee for Oil and Gas. “We need an economic balance with Tripoli.”

Mustafa El Huni, an influential member of the NTC who oversees energy policy, said one idea under preliminary consideration was to split NOC into as many as three companies: one focusing on so-called upstream operations, or exploration and production; another on downstream activities, or refining; and a potential third focusing on natural gas.

Mr El Huni told the Financial Times that the split would allow “efficiency” gains, but he acknowledged that “having two or three NOCs means we could distribute” the companies in different cities, “rather than having all in just one place”. He added: “This would be a positive side effect [of the split].”

Ali Tarhouni, Libya’s prospective oil minister, declined in an interview to comment on the possible NOC split, saying: “This is all talk way, way ahead of its time.”

His remarks reflect wider efforts by NTC officials to reassure their international allies by projecting a sense of continuity in the Libyan economy’s most important institutions.

The NOC controls all the levers of the oil sector, although the NTC is likely to create a ministry of oil that would take away some of the company’s power. Presently, the NOC is the largest partner in joint ventures with foreign oil companies in Libya, including Eni of Italy, Repsol YPF of Spain, Total of France and US-based ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Hess and Occidental Petroleum.

Mr Al Gheriani said that locating the company in Benghazi would bring jobs to the city. “The international oil companies would come here and also the service companies.”

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