By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 15 June 2013:
Plans to split the National Oil Corporation into two are now unlikely to happen according to the Deputy Oil Minister, Omar Shakmak.
The split, announced by Oil and Gas Minister Abdulbari Al-Arusi last November, would have seen the NOC divided into a marketing and downstream activities company based in Benghazi and an exploration and production company retained in Tripoli.
It was widely seen as a compromise designed to address demands from both Cyrenaica federalists and the wider public opinion in Benghazi that the NOC return to the city. A full relocation had earlier been announced last year but was quickly suspended following protests by NOC staff in Tripoli.
The split was simply “a proposal”, said Shakmak who had earlier said that any decision to move or split the NOC was the Prime Minister’s to take, not the Ministry’s.
However, following the announcement from the Prime Minister’s office on 5 June that the NOC would move to Benghazi, the split was not, in his understanding, “valid” anymore.
In any event, Shakmak said, the move would not happen straightway. “There is no timetable at present. We need to plan,” he told the Libya Herald. Staff at the NOC’s headquarters in Tripoli would be given the choice of going to Benghazi or staying in Tripoli. Relocation would “not be compulsory”. Those who did not want to move would have to be found alternative, comparable jobs in other government sectors. “It will take time.”
The move of the NOC to Benghazi is likely to mean that the bulk of foreign and Libyan oil companies based in the capital would also relocate.
Meanwhile last Monday, Arusi announced that the Prime Minister had approved the creation of two new oil companies based in the south of the country. A refining company would be based at Obari where a refinary with a capacity of between 30,000-50,000 barrels a day would be built. An exploration and production company would be set up in Sebha.
The two companies would, he said, generate considerable jobs in the region and would also allow for increased electricity production.
It is not thought coincidental that job opportunities for locals in the oil sector is one of the demands of protestors blockading the giant Elephant oil field west of Murzuk operated by the Libyan-Italian joint venture Mellitah Oil. They have also demanded an NOC office be set up “in the south of the country” and the national headquarters of the oil services defence force to be based either in Murzuk or Obari.
The blockade, according to Arousi earlier this week, cut production from over 100,000 barrels a day to around 30,000 b/d.