Libya: Rebels Downplay Refinery Attack

Libya's interim rebel government has tried to downplay an attack by Qaddafi forces on its oil industry as "an isolated event."

Tags: Oil NTC Libya
Gabe Kahn. ,

Oil Derick
Oil Derick

Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi staged a guerilla attack on the front gate of Libya's largest oil refinery near the coastal town of Ras Lanuf on Monday, killing 15 guards.

The attack shocked Libya's interim leaders, who now control nearly all the country's oil industry, including coastal export terminals – which are critical to solving the nascent government's liquidity crisis and getting the national economy started again.

Many oilfields lie deep in the desert in an area known as the Sirte Basin - near the remaining loyalist strongholds - and are seen as vulnerable to attack.

National Oil Corporation (NOC) chairman Nouri Berouin tried to downplay the attack Thursday telling reporters authorities were improving protection of infrastructure across the country.

"It's an isolated incident. I don't think it will be repeated. We are preparing to give more protection to installations, especially after we finish in Sirte and Sabha," Berouin said in an interview late on Wednesday.

Neither the nearby cities of Sirte, Qaddafi's home town, nor Sabha are yet under the control of Libya's interim leaders. And Bani Walid and Jeffra, also on the coast, are holding out as well.

Qaddafi, promising an extended insurgency against the rebels who drove him from power, has frequently threatened to attack oil facilities, knowing major disruptions in Libya's oil economy could ruin the new government.

NOC has said it will begin exporting crude oil from the eastern port of Tobruk within 10 days and could be producing 1 million barrels per day (bpd) within six months.

A spokesman for the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said the road stretching about 200 km (125 miles) from the contested city of Sirte to the Mediterranean export terminals of Es Sider, Brega and Ras Lanuf was now being guarded.

"The national army has secured the road to Ras Lanuf, which Qaddafi troops attacked," Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, NTC vice chairman and official spokesman, told Reuters.

NOC subsidiary, the Arabian Gulf Oil Company, has said it has a "small army" protecting its eastern fields, including Sarir which began pumping earlier this week.

Berouin said gas production had begun in fields operated by Sirte Oil in the desert south of Brega, an area which includes the Hateiba fields.

Under Qaddafi, the NOC acted as an umbrella organization for the smaller oil subsidiaries, managing commercial operations and representing Libya at international oil meetings such as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Berouin, perhaps hinting at a managed economy in Libya, said the NOC should be reformed with some responsibilities given to the oil and finance ministry, currently headed by Ali Tarhouni.

"The NOC needs a tune-up. Its function must not be ignored but we also need a ministry of oil to handle international affairs," he said.