(New protest in western Libya)
By Ulf Laessing
TRIPOLI, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Libya has restarted oil production at the southern El Sharara field with an initial output of 60,000 barrels per day (bpd) after protesters ended a blockade, the state-run National Oil Corp (NOC) said on Sunday.
But in a new sign of trouble, protesters blocked an oil pipeline in western Libya, adding to disruptions that have slashed Libya’s oil production to 250,000 bpd from 1.4 million.
Tribesmen calling for greater local powers had blocked the El Sharara field since the end of October. NOC now hopes to reach the field’s maximum output capacity of around 340,000 bpd within two to three days, spokesman Mohamed al-Harari said. “Production started last night,” he said.
Libya remains in turmoil as the government struggles to rein in dozens of militias that helped topple leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but kept their guns and continue to make political and financial demands.
Last week, the protesters at El Sharara agreed to suspend their action after the defence minister visited them and said the government would look into their demands.
They are calling for the establishment of a local council and the granting of national identity cards for tribesmen from the Tuareg minority.
The field, located in the remote and volatile south, supplies crude to the western Zawiya export terminal and feeds the 120,000-bpd Zawiya refinery.
Separately, in western Libya, protesters blocked a pipeline near Nalut carrying condensates from the Wafa field to the port of Mellitah, co-owned by Italy’s ENI, oil officials said.
Harari said production of condensates remained normal as the field had sufficient storage capacity. “We hope the government will solve the problem before we have to decrease production,” he said.
No more information was immediately available about the protest. The pipeline feeds the Mellitah oil and gas terminal, a joint venture operated by ENI and the NOC.
There is no sign of progress in eastern Libya despite reported attempts by tribal elders to help end a blockade of the Ras Lanuf, Es-Sider and Zuweitina ports, which previously accounted for 600,000 bpd in crude exports.
The group behind the blockade is demanded autonomy for the east and a greater share of the oil wealth, Libya’s main source of income. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; editing by Janet Lawrence and Jason Neely)