Libya Purchases Bloodless Return of its Eastern Oil Facilities

Andrew McGregor

April 18, 2014

In a move that may help restore revenues to a desperate national government in Tripoli, Libya’s ruling General National Council (GNC) has come to a costly agreement with eastern Libyan gunmen that will enable the resumption of oil exports from Libya’s most productive oilfields, facilities blockaded by their former guards since July 2013. Numerous blockades of oil facilities across Libya since the 2011 revolution have cost the nation billions in revenue, effectively denying it the funds it needs to create the kind of security structure that could prevent gunmen from holding the national economy hostage.

 Ibrahim Jadhran

According to the April 6 deal between the government and Cyrenaica federalists (Cyrenaica is the traditional eastern province of Libya) led by former Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) commander Ibrahim Jadhran, the eastern rebels are to hand over two occupied terminals this week, with two more following within a month.  The status of Libya’s oil terminals and production facilities continues to be fluid, but the current situation at the major installations is as follows:

  • Zawiya: This west Libyan terminal was closed again by Berber protesters on April 10 (al-Arabiya, April 11; Libya Herald, April 12). The protest was short-lived, however, and the terminal was set to re-open on April 14, though officials acknowledged there were “continuing issues” with protesters in the area (Reuters, April 13).
  • Al-Sharara: Oil facilities in the southwestern oil field holding an estimated 3 billion barrels has been occupied repeatedly by various groups of gunmen and protesters. Al-Sharara plant has been inoperative since March.
  • Hariga: This terminal is open and loading tankers after the PFG took control of the port on April 9. Libya’s National Oil Company (NOC) lifted the force majeure the next day (LANA [Tripoli], April 10). Hariga has a capacity of 110,000 bpd.
  • Zuwaytinah: This terminal is set to re-open, but was recently still in the hands of supporters of Ibrahim Jadhran.
  • Ras Lanuf:  This terminal is still blockaded, but is set to be turned over to the government within a month.
  • Al-Sidr – Libya’s largest terminal, with a daily capacity of 450,000 bpd, remains occupied but is set to re-open within a month.
  • Al-Buri and al-Jurf – These oilfields off western Libya’s Mediterranean coast continue to function without interruption.

Jadhran’s official demands included autonomy for Cyrenaica, a greater share of oil revenues and an investigation into corruption in the Libyan oil ministry. While the GNC agreed to the investigation, there were no commitments on the other issues (al-Jazeera, April 11).

Petroleum Facilities Guard

The secret negotiations behind the agreement nearly broke down at one point, with Jadhran having apparent difficulty in persuading his lieutenants to support a deal. Seven members of Jadhran’s Cyrenaican Political Bureau resigned to protest Jadhran’s monopolization of the talks (al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 6). The Bureau is an unelected body that has positioned itself under Jadhran’s leadership as the administration of an autonomous Cyrenaica (or Barqa in Arabic), though the movement has backed off somewhat from earlier talk of outright secession. Jadhran appears to have jeopardized his local popularity with his failed attempt to arrange the covert sale of eastern Libyan oil by means of a North-Korean flagged tanker in early March.

According to pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the agreement also contained secret clauses calling for the formation of a committee to supervise a referendum on federalism in Cyrenaica, the return of state institutions to the region and a more equitable distribution of national oil revenues.  These clauses are supposedly contingent on both parties implementing the present agreement without delay or further amendment (al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 10). However, much of the agreement appears to be financial in nature, with Tripoli pledging an undisclosed sum of money to cover the “back pay and expenses” of the former Petroleum Facilities Guards who took control of the facilities they were supposed to guard last July (al-Jazeera, April 11). The cash payments and amnesties behind the deal are unlikely to help discourage future occupations and blockades, leaving the national economy in the hands of any of the hundreds of armed groups in Libya ready to seize part of the nation’s poorly protected energy-producing infrastructure.

In a televised video statement from Tripoli’s Hadba Prison, Sa’adi al-Qaddafi, the recently extradited son of the late Libyan leader, claimed that he had been working through intermediaries with Ibrahim Jadhran to sell Cyrenaican oil on the international market in order to purchase weapons and equipment for Libya’s remaining Qaddafists. Jadhran immediately refuted the damaging allegations on his own TV station while indicating he would sue those involved in broadcasting Sa’adi’s statement (Libya Herald, April 2). No evidence was provided to support Sa’adi’s statement from prison, which comes at a time when a relatively powerless government is interested in discrediting one of its most powerful opponents.

The oil blockades have crippled Libyan efforts at reconstructing the state and re-imposing national security. Oil exports account for nearly all government revenues and their disruption has threatened the government’s ability to meet its payroll as well as various subsidies based on oil revenues. Most importantly, it prevents the GNC from building a national army capable of enforcing its writ. Though there is discussion of Moroccan and/or Turkish involvement in training a new army, the army’s current powerlessness was best displayed when the Zintan militia controlling Tripoli’s airport seized an incoming shipment of weapons destined for the Libyan national army (Los Angeles Times, April 13).

This article first appeared in the April 18, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.