TRIPOLI, Libya – Protests by the security guards who protect Libya's oil industry and infrastructure shutdowns have sent petroleum exports plunging to levels far below those prior to the 2011 war that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and the country itself risks a domestic fuel shortage, according to a high-ranking government oil official.
Libya is currently exporting between 300,000 and 320,000 barrels daily, a fifth of the 1.6 million barrels it regularly exported before the war, Deputy Oil Minister Omar el-Shakmak told reporters late Tuesday. Exports are down by 50 percent compared to last week.
The drop in exports mostly sent to European countries comes amid an international oil price rise of more than 15 percent over the last three months. Oil was selling for $109 on Wednesday in large part due to regional instability including a possible U.S. strike against Syria and the Libya oil delivery problems.
Besides the protests that have shut down eastern ports and refineries, gunmen in the western el-Riyayna area near the Nafusa Mountain range closed three oil pipelines that typically carry 452,000 barrels a day, most of which is used domestically, el-Shakmak said.
The country will experience fuel shortages if the pipelines remain closed for more than a week, he added.
The armed men have no connection to the pipelines and are demanding money and vehicles in return for allowing oil to resume flowing. Defense ministry officials and oil installation guards will work to resolve the problem, el-Shakmak said without giving more details.
The port of Brega, which sends oil to Italy, resumed operations on Saturday after being closed for a week, said an oil ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
But ports and refineries in El-Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina remain closed due to protests by guards demanding better pay and equipment to secure their posts. They are also protesting for the reinstatement of their unit's supervisor in the Defense Ministry, Ali Al-Ahrash, who was recently removed for reasons that have not been made public.
Illicit sales of oil by some and protests by security guards, who work under the Defense Ministry, have also hurt Libya's oil exports.
Libyan oil production was steady during the regime of Gadhafi. Production stopped completely at one point during the war, but bounced back in February 2012, four months after Gadhafi was captured and killed by rebels.