Libya's Waha Oil faces tough task to fix war damage

Reuters, Monday 3 Oct 2011

Looting raids by Gaddafi-supporters and ongoing fighting mean restoring some of the country's most economically vital oil fields could take at least six months

Forces loyal to deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have destroyed vehicles and equipment at some fields owned by Libya's Waha Oil company and at others security is still too shaky to visit, an engineer with the company said on Sunday.

Waha Oil is owned by Libya's National Oil Corporation in a joint venture with American firms ConocoPhillips, Marathon and Amerada Hess .

Before the conflict, it pumped nearly half a million barrels of oil per day (380,000 bpd) but it is now producing no crude.

"They (company managers) sent a group of engineers and they have gone around to see the damage, although they were not able to make it to all locations as some are still dangerous because Gaddafi's troops are still there," said Abdullatif Hetwash, an engineer who has worked for Waha Oil for 36 years.

Waha operates four main oil fields, including Waha, Dahra, Samah and has its main base at the Es-sider terminal on Libya's Mediterranean coast.

"Waha is not safe yet, Samah is not safe yet, but they managed to visit Gialo and reported that everything, the warehouse, facilities, accommodation, has all been destroyed by Gaddafi's troops. They went in and they destroyed the equipment and have taken most of the spare parts," he said.

"In one raid they took 127 trucks from Es-sider terminal and one of our transport managers gave up to Gaddafi's troops 60 new Land Rovers. We have the report. He was pro-Gaddafi," he said.

Most of Libya is nominally under the control of the new interim government, but security provision is patchy and fighting is still going on at Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast, and at Bani Walid, south-east of Tripoli.

Just weeks ago, 17 people were killed in a raid by militia at Ras Lanuf, Libya's largest refinery.

"There's no security, no electricity, no food and looting at the warehouses," said Hetwash.

"In some areas 90 per cent of spare parts and motors have been destroyed, and we cannot start production until they are replaced because it is dangerous," he added.

It could take six months to restore the facilities at the fields seen by the Waha Oil team, Hetwash said, and the restart is being held up by key workers who say they will not return to the fields until managers, seen as remnants of Gaddafi's regime, agree to step down.

He said if the internal dispute is resolved, engineers and other workers are ready to start the work of getting Waha Oil's fields back on stream.

"Most of the people that produce the oil are here. We can do without them, the managers. We can start from tomorrow if we can have enough transport, equipment, tools and materials," Hetwash said.

Along with hundreds of Waha Oil employees, Hetwash was at a rally on Sunday outside the company's headquarters to demand a change of management.

The protest reflected the freedom that Libyans are now enjoying after Gaddafi's autocratic rule came to an end, and the grievances that built up for decades. Before, security forces would stop any public show of dissent.

"The chairman and members must go immediately, and not wait another minute," said Widad El Said, a secretary at the company for four years.

"Everything has stopped for eight months and this is not good for Libya. But all the employees in the fields have refused to go back because they will never trust the management again" she said.

In August, Marathon Oil said it has had preliminary discussions with the interim government, the National Transitional Council, on restarting output at the Waha field.

But the firm said it wouldn't send staff back to Libya until it could ensure their safety.

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