Libya’s rival oil company leaders reach deal to unify sector

LONDON (Reuters) - Once-rival leaders of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) have agreed on a structure for the group that aims to put to rest squabbles over who has the right to export the country’s oil, according to a statement.

Mustafa Sanalla, the head of the National Oil Corporation (NOC), speaks during an interview with Reuters at the headquarters of the NOC in Tripoli, Libya February 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Oil industry leaders in OPEC-member Libya have said they could quickly double production to over 700,000 bpd if conditions stabilized. Before a 2011 revolution, Libya was producing 1.6 million bpd.

The rival oil officials agreed in principle to unify the oil sector in May, but the agreement on the structure and leadership of a joint group took weeks of meetings to iron out. (here)

Mustafa Sanalla, who led the Tripoli-based NOC, will remain chairman of the group, while the head of the eastern-backed NOC, Naji al-Maghrabi, will serve as a board member, according to a statement seen by Reuters.

A UN-backed unity government that arrived in Tripoli in March is seeking to replace two rival governments that were set up in Tripoli and the east, and to unite Libya’s many political and armed factions.

A united oil sector would be a key support for the unity government. Libya relies heavily on oil exports as a source of income and hard currency.

“This agreement will send a very strong signal to the Libyan people and to the international community that the Presidency Council is able to deliver consensus and reconciliation,” Sanalla said in the statement.

Al-Maghrabi said both men “made a strategic choice to put our divisions behind us” as there is “no other way forward”.

Oil production sank to around 200,000 bpd in May after a political dispute between the eastern and western factions blocked loadings at Marsa al Hariga for more than three weeks.

A unified NOC structure could also smooth negotiations to reopen the El Sharara and El Feel fields, which are closed due to disagreements with local groups.

The two sides also agreed a budget for the remainder of the year, taking steps to “address any imbalances resulting from the period of division”, they said.

They also identified infrastructure rehabilitation as a big goal, particularly in the eastern city of Benghazi, “in preparation for the relocation of NOC’s headquarters”.

NOC aims to hold meetings of its board of directors meetings in Benghazi “if security conditions permit”.

The joint NOC will also submit periodic reports to committees established by both the Presidential Council and the House of Representatives, which it recognized as the highest executive and legislative authorities within Libya.

Editing by Susan Thomas