Oil workers assess damage after Sudan border fight

HEGLIG, Sudan Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:59pm EDT

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HEGLIG, Sudan (Reuters) - Sudanese oil workers took stock of damage to the economically-vital Heglig oilfield on Tuesday after recent fighting with South Sudan left a power station in ruins, a warehouse gutted and a pipeline spilling out acrid crude.

Officials are eager to resume output from Heglig, which accounted for about half of Sudan's 115,000 barrels a day of production before South Sudan seized the field earlier this month. The fighting edged the countries close to an all-out war.

But interviews with workers in the area during a government-organized tour of the main facilities on Tuesday suggested getting life and work back to normal in the volatile area would take some time.

"We don't have coveralls. We don't have anything. Everything was taken away, everything," said Ibrahim Yousif, a field base manager in Heglig for the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) consortium that runs the field.

A nearby pipeline that runs to a terminal in Port Sudan was charred and still spurting out some oil after workers put out a fire that had raged there for days.

The Heglig facilities processed crude from a combined output of about 50,000 to 55,000 barrels per day but production has stopped since the fighting started, he said.

Another oil worker also said the Heglig region had been producing 50,000 to 55,000 bpd, and a third said it had been pumping around 50,000 bpd. Both said output had totally stopped and declined to say when full production might resume.

GNPOC is run by state-owned China National Petroleum Co (CNPC), Malaysia's Petronas and India's ONGC.

South Sudan announced on Friday it would withdraw from Heglig after facing intense international pressure. Sudan says it took the region by force. Both have blamed the other for damaging the oil facilities during the fighting.

At the site, one of the main crude storage tanks, where oil is stored before it is pumped into the pipeline, was bleeding crude from one side, forming a puddle in the dry, reddish earth.

Down the road, the charred remains of two tanks stood on the dusty road and men in military fatigues patrolled the area in pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns.

POWER STATION

Mustafa Abdusalam, an engineer working for the Sudanese government, accused South's army (SPLA) of purposefully sabotaging the tank. "They tried to put a detonator (in it) or something, but they failed, so they went to the other side and used bullets," he said.

Some of the worst damage was to the main power station, where charred strips of metal hung down from the top, and many sections were heavily burned.

"You cannot run anything without electricity, so it is the most important part of the CPF (central processing facility)," Abdusalam said.

Also adding to difficulties, many of the basics needed to provide telecommunications and transportation in the area were damaged or stolen, oil workers said. One fire truck was stolen and another destroyed, Yousif, the GNPOC worker, said.

"We are trying to restore life here and restore services and make ... it easy for people to work. It's not easy to work in a war atmosphere," he said. Battered swivel chairs, printers with multicolored wires spilling out and scraps of cardboard lay in piles nearby.

A large warehouse made of corrugated metal was also totally destroyed. The corrugated metal walls were charred and bent and the roof had caved in. Bits of ash and shattered glass crunched underfoot inside.

Yousif said only about 120 of the tens of thousands of oil workers he estimated worked in the region have returned. Those that have were staying in a chemical laboratory because the regular living units had been ransacked, he said.

"This reminds many of our colleagues of the first beginnings of the project," he said, referring to the time when GNPOC set up in Sudan while the civil war between north and south was still raging.

(Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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