Ministry issues warning after oilfield closures in Libya

The fields were shut in protest over the kidnapping of former finance minister Faraj Bumatari.

A general view of the El Sharara oilfield,
A general view of the Sharara oilfield [File; Ismail Zitouny/Reuters]

A day after three Libyan oilfields were shut in protest against the abduction of a former finance minister, the oil ministry has said that the closures could lead to a declaration of force majeure.

A ministry statement late on Friday called on all parties not to let their disputes affect energy production and exports.

Such closures could severely affect the North African country’s vital oil sector, including marketing and demand, and undermine the ministry’s efforts to stabilise crude production, the ministry said.

Faraj Bumatari, a former finance minister, was reportedly kidnapped after arriving at Mitiga airport on Tuesday, with the production at the al-Fil, 108, and Sharara oilfields shut two days later in protest, according to Zawi tribe leader Al-Senussi al-Ahlaiq.

Al-Ahlaiq said that the closure of al-Fil was conducted to pressure authorities in Tripoli to release Bumatari.

“Our main demand is the release of the minister,” the tribal leader said, who spoke on the phone from the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday.

Bumatari is a candidate for the central bank governorship, which “makes him vulnerable to danger and kidnapping”, the tribe said in a statement.

The Sharara field is one of Libya’s largest production areas, with a capacity of 300,000 barrels per day. It has been a frequent target of political strife.

Since 2011, Libya has been besieged with civil conflict, divided by two rival governments each backed by various international actors and armed militias in the country. The House of Representatives is based in the eastern city of Tobruk, while its rival chamber and Prime Minister Abdul Hamad Dbeibah are based in the capital of Tripoli.

The House of Representatives on Thursday accused the country’s Internal Security Agency of kidnapping Bumatari, saying it held Dbeibah – an ally of the security agency’s chief – responsible for his safety.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya also voiced concern about the abduction and the closure of oil fields, urging that the shutdown cease to persist.

Libya’s oilfields have been the target of political protests over the years since civil strife plagued the country after the 2011 NATO-backed removal of former leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The incident comes as the rival governments look at holding potential unifying elections as the United Nations continues to urge an end to the country’s political deadlock.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies