Friday, 03 December 2021 12:18 GMT

Libya's ascendant oil boss poses challenge for Opec and Russia


(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Libya's rebounding oil output is undermining the supply curbs masterminded by Saudi Arabia and Russia. But any pleas for the Opec member to exercise restraint will probably be resisted by the technocrat overseeing the North African nation's turnaround.
Production has climbed to a four-year high of 1.1mn bpd, with Libya adding output since April that's equivalent to more than a quarter of the cuts agreed by Opec and its allies.
The restoration of Libyan oil supply has put the spotlight on National Oil Corp Chairman Mustafa Sanalla, whose influence has waxed in a country divided between a weak UN-backed government in the west and a military strongman in the east. When Opec meets with Russia in St Petersburg this week, the 56-year-old petrochemical engineer will speak for a nation that's causing as much angst as US shale drillers.
'Sanalla has become the central figure in the oil and gas sector, Geoff Porter, founder of the North Africa Risk Consulting, said in an interview. 'His job is to produce as much oil as possible while he can and I think that's what he is going to continue to try to do.
When Opec, Russia and other producers agreed last December to cut production to boost prices, Libya easily secured an exemption. The nation with Africa's biggest oil reserves was pumping about half a million barrels a day of crude, less than a third of its pre-conflict capacity.
Libya was off the radar, skipping Opec meetings and not providing the group with monthly production data. Now, with output surpassing the symbolic 1mn-bpd mark, Opec members want Libya at the table in St Petersburg. While it's unclear if Libya will send a representative to the ministers' meeting on July 24, Sanalla will attend a technical meeting two days earlier.
Libya will share with the committee 'the factors enabling and constraining its recovery in output, Sanalla said in a statement on Tuesday.
As for joining the supply curbs and while Ecuador deals a blow to Opec unity, Sanalla has previously hinted that Libya's challenges won't make that easy.
'Libya's political, humanitarian and economic situation needs to be taken into account if we are going to talk about production caps, Sanalla said in a July 11 statement, following suggestions from other Opec members that the country could be asked to curb output.
Sanalla's growing stature in a divided country General Khalifa Haftar controls eastern Libya and vies for power with the UN-backed Tripoli-based government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj was on display last month in an opinion piece in the New York Times, where he urged the NOC to remain aloof from the nation's internal politics.
With the NYT piece and the nation's surging oil output, Sanalla 'demonstrated to the other stakeholders in Libya that he has the international standing that almost anyone else lacks, said Mattia Toaldo, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
'Sanalla is a mix between a diplomat-in-chief and an oil minister in the Saudi tradition, who used to do big diplomacy mostly through oil, Toaldo said.

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