* Imports forced by closure of gas fields
* Queues for motor fuel grow in Tripoli
* Crude export cargo diverted to supply refinery
* Italy says gas imports from Libya normal
By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
TRIPOLI, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Libya is importing diesel and fuel oil to fend off increasing power cuts, as queues of drivers grow at the pumps and daily life grows harder in the face of political crisis.
Most gas fields in its eastern region, which had supplied power plants, have been shut in the worst disruption to Libya’s energy sector since the civil war in 2011. Armed groups, security guards and oil workers with tribal loyalties have shut down pipelines and oil ports across the country.
The power sector is already struggling with an estimated shortfall of around 1,000 MW due to summer peak consumption, an electricity official said.
The capital Tripoli has regular power cuts that have worsened in recent days and officials privately say Libya could expect longer rationing if the crisis continues.
A National Oil Company senior official said Libya had imported at least three times the quantities of liquid fuel than usual in order to keep power plants operating.
“All the gas in the eastern part has stopped,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
Ahmad Mustapha Hussein, a senior official at the state run General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL), said it could take weeks for major combined cycle gas turbine power plants to go back to natural gas if the crisis persists.
“There have been a lot of problems as a result of the strikes and this is affecting generating units,” said Hussein, adding that the cost of importing diesel and fuel oil were adding to fiscal pressures as a result of the loss of oil revenues.
Officials say installed generating capacity is about 5,600 MW with actual demand above rising above 6,660 MW this summer, mostly residential consumption.
The official said the Wafa gas field which produces around 13 million cubic metres per day in a joint venture with Eni was providing some relief for Libyan power plants that run on gas.
Libyan crude oil exports have fallen below 10 percent of export capacity to less than 100,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to a Reuters estimate, as it saves the remaining output for domestic consumption.
With crude oil from the Marsa al Brega port diverted to the Zawiya refinery, only exports from the Bouri and Al Jurf offshore platforms remain. The two platforms can export up to 95,000 bpd.
The drop in domestic production has also led to worse gasoline queues than usual in the capital, where over a quarter of the six million population live in and has for months suffered from heavy gasoline demand blamed on a surge in car imports.
The NOC has said that gasoline supply was good.
An energy official said that a vessel that had loaded 600,000 tonnes of crude from Brega, which shipping sources said was the Eagle Trenton, had been asked by NOC to go to Zawiya in the west because it was needed to supply its 120,000 bpd refinery, the biggest near the capital Tripoli.
“There was a loading at Brega but we brought it to Zawiya refinery,” the official said, adding that this was prompted by the refinery’s feedstock running out after the Essharara oil field in the deep south west on which it relied was shut by protesters.
“We told the customer we cannot deliver the cargo because we needed it for domestic consumption,” the official added.
Oil Minister Abdelbari Arusi said before gas production was disrupted that Libya produced 2.4 billion cubic metres of natural gas, with around 650 million cubic metres exported to Italy.
The rest was used for urea and ammonia production and electricity generation in oilfields that have now shut.
Libyan gas exports are so far unaffected with around 16 million cubic metres/day currently reaching Italy, similar to flow rates over the past 18-months, traders said.
Strikers have denied they have tampered with gas pipelines, saying instead their aim is to thwart exports of oil, much of which they say has been sold illegally by the government amid allegations of corruption.