Struggling to resume oil production in Libya
September 19th, 2011
09:03 PM ET

Struggling to resume oil production in Libya

By Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty on assignment in Zurwarah, Libya

Drive west from Tripoli along the Mediterranean coast for an hour an a half and you’ll see it in the distance: the gas flare at the Mellitah Oil & Gas Company’s massive processing plant in Zuwarah.

Just a few weeks ago rebels and Gadhafi loyalists were shooting it out right down the road. Houses and stores are scarred with blackened holes where shells hit.

The complex, which processes and exports crude oil, natural gas, condensed gas and other products, survived intact but the last export of crude oil was in March. Most of the Libyan workers were scared off by the fighting and foreign workers pulled out en masse.

Some natural gas still is flowing to nearby power plants but gas exports to Europe stopped shortly after the revolution began. By the water’s edge you can see the gas pipeline behind a fence, curving down like the crook of an arm and disappearing into the earth. From here it stretches 330 miles under the Mediterranean Sea to Sicily, providing gas for Italy. The company is hoping it can restart gas supplies before the European winter sets in.

In Tripoli, at the headquarters of Mellitah Oil & Gas, we meet Najmi M. Karim, the new chairman, appointed just a few days ago. He’s moving into his new office at company headquarters.

"The biggest challenge for us is to get back to production levels before events. This is our target,” Karim said.

“Events” is one of the words Libyans now use to refer to the uprising of February 17th.

Karim says the company’s facilities in the east and west of Libya suffered minimal damage in the conflict but officials in Tripoli still have not been able to establish contact with their El Feel oil field in the south where fighting still is ongoing.

The facilities of other Libyan oil companies, he says, may have been damaged, especially ports and terminals. Some fields have been hit by vandalism.

There are other challenges, including bringing back on-line equipment that has sat idle for more than half a year.

For Mellitah, Karim says, getting workers back on the job is the first challenge.

“You have to first bring back the people to the field. This is the starting point. Without people in the field you cannot do anything,” he says. “Having the workers back in the field requires some logistics support from an accommodation point of view, catering, transportation, all these kinds of supports.”

Safety is another concern. At the complex safety supervisor Abdulbaset Montaser instructs us to wear yellow safety helmets and hands us emergency masks in case of any danger. He quickly reassures us: “The system that we have here is very good system and high technology system so, for six years, we don’t have any problem with that, we don’t have any explosion here.”

Inside the control room workers watch computers monitoring every aspect of production.

“Please reduce the downstation steam,” one engineer instructs over a radio.

A majority, 85%, of Libya’s exports of its high-quality, low-sulfur light sweet crude go to Western Europe but oil experts say the country currently is producing only 10-15% of its normal 1.6 billion barrels a day.

“To reach the maximum of 1.6 million barrels per day, before the revolution started, that could happen anytime between a year or two years from now," Manouchehr Takin of the Centre for Global Energy tells CNN.

Walking alongside the intense blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea with Mellitah’s marine superintendant, Adel Sager, we gaze out at the now-empty pier where ships dock to load crude oil for export.

The dock stretches two kilometers into the sea. Two tugboats wait expectantly by the quay.

“These ships come in from France and Germany?” I ask him. “Yes,” he says, from many, many different nationalities and countries.” But the skyline is empty.

Sager, and other Libyan oil workers are hoping those ships will be back soon.

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. TRUE LIBYAN

    GHADDAFI WILL NEVER LOSE THIS WAR..WE ALL KNOW IT IN LIBYA EVEN NATO REVOLOTIONARIES... GHADDAFI IS PRESSURING WITH HIS WEAPONS AND MAY HAVE REACHED AN AGREEMENT WITH NATO TO STOP ITS AIR STRIKES..IF THIS IS, THEN 48 HOURS AND ALL NATO REVOLUTIONARIES WILL BE SIEGED IN BENGHAZI ..HEADS TO EGYPT THEN TO FRANCE OR QATAR AND THE REST EVEN DIE OR DIE...

    September 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Reply
    • AgentJ

      Not a chance. In the words of Desmond Tutu, "You have already lost."
      Gadhaffi is on his last leg, wanted for war crimes by the ICC, a fugitive in his own country. Its nearly over for him now.

      September 20, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  2. Critic

    Oil at $87/brl. and gas @ $4/gal. Gas was @ $4/gal when oil was at $112/brl. So are you happy and satisfied that the oil companies are paying less for oil and we are still paying the high price for gas. At today's oil price, gas should NOT be more than $2.65/gal. So why are we paying $1.35/gal more? Here is a suggestion. As of Oct. 15th-2011 start boycotting Exxon/Mobile. They stand to lose Billions of dollars. Due to loss of sales and a sudden drop in their stock values. In order to avert this loss, they will have to regain their customers at the pump. The only way to get their customers back will be reduction in gas prices at their gas stations. A nationwide boycott will achieve this goal. Please join in and also inform all your friends and relatives. Oct. 15th-2011. Boycott Exxon/Mobile.

    September 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  3. Story of Gaddafi

    STORY OF GADDAFI IN A NUTSHELL–

    Moammar (Ashkelon) Gaddafi never enjoyed his life.

    Since 1969, the tyrant was consumed daily with plotting and planning to wipe out the Libyans.

    He stole trillions of $ of oil revenues over 42 years and used it to buy weapons to kill them.

    He built many kilometers of underground tunnels and built underground hospitals, thinking these would save him.

    The dumb man never expected there to be a NATO helping the Libyan people or the Internet evidence of his atrocities in 2011.

    He and his family did themselves in with their limitless stupidity, arrogance, greed, and evil.

    Now all that's left to do is find all the Gaddafis and execute the vermin.

    September 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Reply
    • Gadaffi

      Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Boring. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XorKTwkFPDU

      September 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Reply
    • sherman, ellen

      No he loves life and always has. Tripoli is a beautiful modern city with sky scrapers and beautiful roads and parks. someone pays you to lie don't they?

      September 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Reply
    • AgentJ

      Gadhaffi is a tyrant, who overthrew the previous government of Libya by Military Coup. He has had a stranglehold on the people of Libya for over 40 years. People who disagreed with his rule disappeared in the night, dragged off by his secret police. When his people, emboldened by the Arab Spring movement, protested him peacefully in the streets, he Massacred them openly, firing on them from helicopters and aircraft. Thats the real story of Gadhaffi, and his fall.

      September 20, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  4. radgast

    Can people actually phathom the thought that while oil is important to any developed country, the revolution actually prevented the countries who get it from getting it. The story indicates the particular pipeline was going to Italy, this revolt did not get them more fuel, on the contrary it was a major disruption. It does not matter who in Libya is selling it, they will sell it. So I do not believe that the motive for the Libya Oil was somehow the driving factor and conspiracy to overthrow this dictator, although I am sure someone somewhere is financially going to benefit. The people of Libya of stood to gain more than anyone.

    September 20, 2011 at 1:58 am | Reply
  5. Bob

    We should have stayed out of Libya. It was a civil matter. I cannot believe we wasted our own resources on going there illegally. This was NOT a "revolution". It was leaders and rebel fighters linked to Al Qaeda that Ghadafhi was fighting AND who were the same rebels we helped. What a joke. I cannot believe this got swept under the rug so quickly and the American people will stand for this kind of garbage any longer. I cannot wait for the next election to come around. Way to go Obama. In contrast to your slogan... "No We Did Not!"

    September 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Reply
    • radgast

      I kind of liken that to france helping those terrorist of 1776, they should have let george washington hang...

      September 20, 2011 at 1:51 am | Reply
    • sherman, ellen

      this is nothing like that, no one wants to hear the truth and frankly Scarlett I'm ready to collect my deserts and scram. I think you should all go off to screw up the rest of the world as you are doing such a great job.

      September 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Reply
  6. S

    This war had nothing to do about oil ... nope, nothing at all ... *whistles innocently as we restart the oil pumps* ... oil?! what oil?!

    Hey, Libya doesn't have to return the Lockerbie bomber do they?

    September 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Reply
  7. John

    Good we haven't damaged refineries much. We were worried only about Oil. Hopefully production will resume very soon. Fools now our tactics is not going to work in middle east. we created another Muslim terrorist country.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Reply

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