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Eastern Libya Able to Keep Gasoline Coming


The oil refinery at Ras Lanouf last month when was still in rebel hands, March 5, 2011

The oil refinery at Ras Lanouf last month when was still in rebel hands, March 5, 2011

The conflict in Libya has set oil markets on edge, with rising gasoline prices being one of the immediate effects. There are also shortages in parts of Libya, but in the rebel-run east, prices remain low, and local officials have been able to keep the pumps full.

Perhaps the hardest hit Libyan city is rebel-held Misrata, where daily mortar and rocket attacks by government troops push the availability of gasoline low on the list of priorities.

In Tripoli, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi maintains that the needs of daily life are being met. But even state TV has shown long lines of cars trying to get gas.

In contrast, few problems have surfaced in the east.

Taxi driver Awad, who works on the highway between his hometown Gawrasha, south of Benghazi, and Ajdabiya, says there has been no decrease in supplies since the uprising began in February.

And the price is extremely low. In a country of vast distances and abundant oil, gasoline is normally about 12 cents a liter. In one of several placating acts as the demonstrations mounted, Colonel Gadhafi ordered the price of a liter dropped even lower, to eight cents.

The cost was so cheap, and anti-Gadhafi sentiment so high, that in the beginning, some gas stations were giving it away free to the rebel fighters.

Faraj Faitouri, who manages a gas station in Benghazi, says he now asks the fighters to pay like everyone else, to cover the bills coming from the suppliers.

The bulk of those supplies - 95 Octane - is now coming from a refinery in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border. Earlier shipments came from Sarir, further south, but the refinery there was hit a few weeks ago. Diesel, for bigger vehicles, is also widely available.

With gas stations still open all the way to the frontline, now in Ajdabiya, most of the major cities in the east are doing fine.

Faitouri worries there might be shortages in some smaller towns near the front, as gasoline trucks are wary of getting too close.

With government forces able to strike at a fair distance, Fatouri calls the supply trucks "moving bombs."

Even if local supplies were to run low, there are reports that help is on the way. The European oil trader Vitol is said to have brought in a shipment of gasoline to Benghazi in recent days, but it would not confirm the report.

If it did, it isn't apparent at Faitouri's station.

Like so many things in Libya, Colonel Gadhafi has put his stamp on oil refining ordering all gasoline to be tinted green. The color of his mandatory-reading Green Book, it's also the color of his government's flag, as well as most shop doors and window frames across the country.

Gas station manager Faitouri, enjoying a new found freedom to mock the long serving ruler, says he believes that if he could, the colonel would like Libyans blood to be green as well.

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