Libya Sees Militant Attacks on Oil Storage Tanks Hurting Exports

  • Burning storage tanks cause `environmental catastrophe'
  • Tanks located near Libya's biggest crude oil export terminals

Militants in Libya attacked and damaged oil-storage tanks near the Ras Lanuf port terminal, inflicting an “environmental catastrophe” that will hamper the country’s crude exports, according to state-run National Oil Corp.

QuickTake Libya’s Breakdown

Four storage tanks caught fire in the central coastal region of Ras Lanuf, which includes the country’s third-largest oil port, NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said in a news conference in Tripoli. Three million barrels of crude oil are at risk of being burnt, and fires have destroyed electricity towers and cables supplying industrial areas and residences, he said.

The tanks belong to Harouge Oil Operations, and the fire has spread to a pipeline linked to Amal oil field, Ali al-Hasy, spokesman for Petroleum Facilities Guard, said by phone.

“The fires are depriving us of crude storage and are also hurting our capacity to export,” Sanalla said. “The situation in the region of Ras Lanuf is disastrous due to the environmental catastrophe.”

Libya, with Africa’s largest oil reserves, pumped about 1.6 million barrels a day of crude before the 2011 rebellion that ended Moammar Al Qaddafi’s 42-year rule. It’s now the smallest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, producing 362,000 barrels a day, Sanalla said. Since Qaddafi’s ouster and death, Libya has fractured into two separately-run regions, and various armed militias compete for control of its oil fields, ports and related facilities.

Force Majeure

Islamic State militants have attacked storage tanks and other targets near Ras Lanuf and the nearby Es Sider terminal, Libya’s biggest, battling over the past months with members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard. Es Sider and Ras Lanuf have both been closed to oil exports since force majeure was declared in December 2014 when armed groups attacked both ports. Force majeure is a legal status protecting a party from liability if it can’t fulfill a contract for reasons beyond its control.

National Oil Corp. tried over the past two weeks to empty the storage tanks and export the crude or transport it to safer locations such as onto tankers offshore, Sanalla said. He said members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard blocked efforts to save the crude at Ras Lanuf. NOC said in a Jan. 14 statement that the guards denied access to a tanker scheduled to load crude from storage tanks at the port, citing security concerns.

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