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Libyan oil firms may resume work soon

BENGHAZI -- East Libya's Zueitina and Sirte Oil companies will be able to resume work as soon as the areas where they operate are secured, a top rebel oil official in said on Sunday.

Rebels have fought a fierce back-and-forth battle with forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on the road between the eastern cities of Ajdabiyah and Brega for over three weeks, forcing much of the civilian population to evacuate.

Getting the companies in those areas running again would be a boost for the insurgents, but to do so rebel forces will likely need to muster the firepower to dislodge better-armed and trained government loyalists from the area.

“For Sirte Oil and Zueitina, we have people ready to move in as soon as they are safe to move,” Wahid Bugaighis, appointed head of the National Oil Company by the rebel national council, told reporters in Benghazi.

“If we are liberated and the situation is stable, then they are ready to go back,” he added.

The main oil fields under rebel control are the Sarir, Nafoora and Misla fields, all owned by the Arabian Gulf Oil Company (Agoco).

Rebels said they were forced to halt production after troops loyal to Gadhafi attacked the Misla field.

Bugaighis said the opposition would not be exporting any more oil until they were able to repair the damage at Misla and that oil at a storage terminal in Tobruk would be used mainly for a refinery there.

“Presently we are not replenishing any storage in Tobruk,” he said.

Bugaighis said a damage assessment at Misla was complete and workers were preparing to do repairs. He said it would take at least a month to get back on stream, but even that estimate was rough because reconstruction planning was still under way.

Agoco said separately this week it could not give a timeline for resuming production given the scale of the damage at Misla and the lack of safety there.

Bugaighis said rebels were studying “alternatives” to reinforce security at the oil fields they control, but declined to give details.

Eight guards were killed in an attack on a pumping station along the pipeline between the Sarir field and a port in Tobruk this week, he said, while adding that the attack would not affect the pumping or use of the pipeline.

The loss of Brega, which supplied natural gas to Benghazi, has forced rebels to import more diesel fuel from abroad to run a power plant north of the rebel stronghold, Bugaighis said.

He said electricity output from the plant has been cut by about a quarter to save fuel.

“This is to give us some breathing time between arrivals of tankers. We didn't have this problem when the gas was supplied to the plant, but now we have to supply it by sea and get it from abroad,” Bugaighis said.

He said rebels made about US$129 million from their only shipment of crude oil, but had to pay US$75 million for a single cargo of gasoline.

“You have to put things in perspective,” he said. “You don't go far with US$129 million.”

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