Benghazi /Libya — Libya is shutting down production at its biggest oilfield after tribesmen and state security guards seized the El Sharara facility, field engineers and protesters said on Sunday, but there was no confirmation from state oil firm NOC.
If true, the shutdown at the 315,000 barrel-per-day field would also force the closure of the El-Feel oilfield, located in the same remote and lawless southern desert.
El-Feel usually pumps around 70,000 bpd.
One field engineer said production was being shut, without giving a time frame or figures. A spokesman for the tribesmen which call themselves the Fezzan Anger Movement, Mohamed Maighal, also said the field was closed.
But, adding to the confusion amid two days of contradicting comments, an oil source said late on Sunday that the field was still operational as NOC was trying to negotiate to avoid a full shutdown. He gave no output figure.
El Sharara lies in Libya's remote southwestern desert where state authority is weak, chaos rampant and phone connections patchy, making it difficult to get reliable information.
NOC confirmed at noon only that guards had forced the closure of some pumps at El Bharara "which will result in on-site tanks filling within the next few hours and thus force a production shutdown," a statement said.
NOC could not be reached for further comment and did not issue a new statement after the hours had passed which it had said would take to fill the tanks.
It warned of "catastrophic consequences."
"Shutting down production at the El Sharara field will have catastrophic, long-term consequences, it would take a long time to resume production because of the sabotage and theft that are likely to happen," NOC said in a statement.
The tribesmen stormed into the field premises on Saturday after NOC said some guards, supported by locals, had opened the gates, driving around in jeeps and filming themselves in video they sent to journalists.
They stayed overnight in the vast, partly unsecured area, making good on a threat to stop production issued first in October should authorities not provide more development funds for their impoverished region.
"We will not allow the El Sharara field to reopen unless the U.N. mediates," Maighal said late Sunday afternoon.
He said their southern Fezzan region had suffered decades of neglect and demanded that the revenue of the oil produced from local fields be used to fund development projects.