9 July 2013

Libya: Protests Threaten Local Oil Production

Photo: Africa Undisguised
An offshore oil rig.

Benghazi — Libya's oil production is in crisis, following work stoppages at several fields and export facilities.

As of Monday (July 8th), two fields belonging to the Zueitina Oil Company remained closed for nearly a week.

West of Murzuq, an oil field with a capacity of 130,000 barrels also stopped production. Protestors demanded better wages and benefits, and jobs for locals.

And Libya's largest oil terminal at Es Sider closed last Friday after port guards took over the site to demand a salary hike.

Such labour actions at Libyan oil sites were costing the country $50 million a day, Libya Herald quoted General National Congress (GNC) Energy Committee Chairman Naji Al-Mukhtar as saying on July 3rd.

Libya produces about 1.6 million barrels a day, but production fell to less than a million daily barrels because of the demonstrations, the National Oil Corporation said.

The labour protests disrupting oil production were dangerous, Prime Minister Ali Zidan told a news conference on Sunday (July 7th), because they threatened an industry that was vital to the salaries of all citizens.

Speaking about the recent port blockades and the Zueitina shutdown, Zidan said that anyone who disrupted oil activity wanted to "fight the Libyan people".

But Zueitina engineer Belgassen Al-Sagou, 34, said the protest would "not affect the domestic gas supply of Zueitina while the country prepares for the holy month of Ramadan".

According to labourer Hassan Hamr Azwaia, the protestors were "company employees, as well as oil field and port workers, demanding that the entire board of directors be replaced".

"Workers reject the interference of political parties in oil production," the 33-year-old from Ajdabiya said. "Some of the members of the board used to deal with the former regime," he added.

"I say to officials, before talking about the interests of Libya, come and see who is running the company," protestor Bouhalfaya Zine El Abidine Birch told Magharebia.

Even before the work stoppage, the area felt the fallout from the unemployment crisis.

In Ajdabiya, there are many graduates but "no work for them", local civil engineering instructor Ali Mustafa al-Maghribi said.

"A lot of them do not want to join the army or the police, even though these two institutions are the only ones recruiting and represent a source of money for the majority of young people," the 31-year-old said.

"The city of Ajdabiya needs a gesture from the transitional government to address its needs. For example, there isn't an independent university in Ajdabiya. And like all other Libyan cities, we suffer from a lack of qualified medical staff. As for roads, most of them are very old and run-down," he continued.

The town also needed revised residential zones, he noted. Ajdabiya was last zoned in the 1980s.

"The current local council watches like a spectator the needs of the city and has not offered anything new," the young engineer said.

Fellow Ajdabiya resident Abd Hakim Boudhfira, a writer and economist, echoed al-Maghribi's frustration: "The state made big mistakes, including large empty promises and the failure to meet the demands of the protestors."

"The right thing, in my opinion, is either to meet those demands or reject them. The simple citizen will never trust again a state with such officials," he added.

"I think that the state should speed up the writing of the constitution and the establishment of the army until everyone abides by the law and these demonstrations disappear, so that the state doesn't fall in chaos," Boudhfira said.

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