BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - A senior Libyan rebel official said on Sunday Gulf oil producer Qatar had agreed to market crude oil produced from east Libyan fields that are no longer in the control of Muammar Gaddafi.
“We contacted the oil company of Qatar and thankfully they agreed to take all the oil that we wish to export and market this oil for us,” said Ali Tarhouni, a rebel official in charge of economic, financial and oil matters.
“Our next shipment will be in less than a week,” Tarhouni told reporters in the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi.
State-owned Qatar Petroleum said it had no comment.
Small, energy-rich Qatar became the first Arab nation to begin patrolling a U.N. backed no-fly zone on Friday and has urged Gaddafi to quit to avoid more bloodshed.
Libya produced about 1.6 million barrels of oil per day before the crisis, or almost 2 percent of world output. Most of the oil is in the east, but sanctions and the lack of a marketing operation have stopped the rebels selling it abroad.
The north African country relies heavily on oil exports, which pay the state salaries on which most families depend.
Tarhouni said output from east Libya oil fields that rebels controlled was running at about 100,000 to 130,000 barrels per day (bpd), which could be increased to 300,000 bpd.
Rebel fighters pushed west toward Gaddafi’s stronghold of Sirte on Sunday after routing his forces in the town of Ajdabiyah with the aid of Western air strikes.
The advance puts the rebels back in control of all the main oil terminals in the eastern half of Libya, namely Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zueitina and Tobruk.
Tarhouni said he had asked the main oil company at Brega, 75 km west of Ajdabiyah, to resume operations within 24 hours. The terminal would produce liquid natural gas for domestic use for now, he said.
Officials at eastern oil company Agoco have told Reuters it was pumping most of the oil produced in the east to the terminal in Tobruk in the far east of the country.
Output at its fields, including Nafoora, Sarir and Misla in the Sirte Basin, fell in recent weeks as an absence of shipments since early March led to a build-up of stocks at Tobruk.
Agoco had said it aimed to begin marketing its oil abroad before ceding the plan to the rebel national council.
The plan seemed to have hit a stumbling block when Agoco was named along with 13 other Libyan companies targeted by U.S. sanctions.
The sanctions are designed to cut off funding to Gaddafi and the U.S. government has said the list of companies targeted could change should they come under different ownership.
Tarhouni, a U.S.-based academic and exile opposition figure, was designated last week by the Benghazi-based national council to steer its financial and oil policy.
He said the rebel leadership had set up an escrow account monitored by auditors that would be used to receive revenue from oil sales.
The rebels also plan to take out loans backed by Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, he said.
“We would keep the fund frozen until the entire country is liberated,” Tarhouni said. “Instead, what we will do is take loans backed by the sovereign fund.”
He said he saw no serious liquidity problems for the rebels, who were well placed in terms of foreign currency reserves.
Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer in Cairo; Editing by David Holmes and Maureen Bavdek