Libya oil company says field closed amid political impasse

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CAIRO — Libya’s national oil company said Sunday it was forced to shut down an oil field amid a political impasse that threatened to drag the North African nation back into armed conflict.

The state-run National Oil Corp. said a group of people entered al-Feel field in the country’s south on Saturday, effectively stopping production. The state-run National Oil Corp. didn’t specify who or if they were armed.

But tribal leaders in the southern region announced Saturday the closure of the field in a video statement and demanded the sacking of Mustafa Sanallah, chairman of the National Oil Corp. They demanded fair oil revenue distribution to Libya’s main three regions.

They also called for embattled Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah to hand over power to the parliament-appointed government of rival Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha. Dbeibah’s government did not immediately respond to the request.

The corporation announced a force majeure at the field, a legal maneuver that enables a company to get out of its contract obligations because of extraordinary circumstances.

It called for rival parties to keep conflicts out of the oil sector to save its already dilapidated infrastructure.

It was not immediately clear how many barrels of production Libya will lose because of the shutdown. The nation’s previous production averaged around 1.2 million barrels per day.

Marei Bredan, head of the oil workers’ union in the Zueitina terminal on the Gulf of Sirte, meanwhile, said protesters blocked the terminal Sunday and prevented workers from shipping a tanker carrying 1 million barrels’ worth of crude, according to local news outlet Fawasel Media.

Bashagha was named prime minister in February by the House of Representatives, which has been based in Tobruk. Dbeibah is located in Tripoli’s capital. He has not resigned and says he will only hand power over to an elected government.

Over the past two months, divisions among Libyan factions have deepened, with militias mobilizing — especially in the western region. There are fears of fighting returning after more than 1.5 years of relative peace.

Sunday’s closure comes as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has rattled markets worldwide, causing crude oil prices to soar above $106 per barrel.

Last month, an armed group shut down al-Feel and another critical oil field, Sharara, Libya’s largest, before reopening a few days later following negotiations led by tribal leaders.

Libya’s prized light crude has long featured in the North African country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.

The oil-rich North African country has been wrecked by conflict since the NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. For years, the country was divided between two rival administrations: one in the west and one in east. Each is supported by various militias and foreign governments.

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