News / Africa

Oil Said to Be Key to Libyan Rebels' Fortunes

The Zawiya Oil Refinery, west of Tripoli, Libya  (File)
The Zawiya Oil Refinery, west of Tripoli, Libya (File)

As Libya's rebels and pro-government forces fight over cities and the country's political future, oil too is a key prize in the conflict, and some argue, a motive for outside intervention.   

A man pumping gas near Tobruk, in eastern Libya, says people everywhere in the world are interested in oil.  But he argues it should be shared, that there is no reason to fight over it.

Libya actually makes up but a tiny fraction of the world oil market, and despite soaring energy costs, energy analysts say the rebellion did nothing to supplies that couldn't have been replaced by other oil producers.  

Charles Gurdon, director of the risk analysis firm Menas, says he believes the outside intervention in Libya's conflict was motivated by a genuinely humanitarian effort.  That said, he notes there is a specific, regional interest in Libyan oil.

"I think the major issue really is Libya's importance to the markets of southern Europe.  It produces red, light sweet and expensive crude for the Italian, French and Spanish markets.  And obviously, being on the right side of the Suez Canal gives it distinctive advantages," Gurdon said.

Italy and France, of course, have been driving players, along with Britain and the United States, in the military campaign in Libya, begun after the U.N. Security Council authorized measures to protect Libyan civilians from their own government.  

So, too, has Qatar, which has been helping rebels in the east sell their oil to the world.   

But there is another, more unusual buyer - Beijing. China, along with Russia, has been wary of the democracy-seeking, anti-government wave washing over the Arab world.  And both countries have been critical of what they see as Western powers overstepping the U.N. mandate.  But business, apparently, is a separate matter.

"We understand that both Chinese and Italians have been in Tobruk with suitcases full of money buying crude oil. I think the [Gadhafi] regime is trying to prevent oil reaching Tobruk because obviously oil is the only source of revenue the opposition has," Gurdon stated.

Libya's rebel-held east is home to many of the nation's oil fields, refineries and terminals. While the rebel government has been able to get some oil out, the head of its oil ministry says for now, shipments are on hold.  

An adviser to the Agoco, a state oil subsidiary now in rebel hands, says the main problem is damage from attacks by government forces on oil fields and a refinery south of Tobruk, as well as the refinery and terminal at Brega. Youssef Rahim Sharif says once the situation is more secure, Libyans in the east can get the oil flowing.  

"We have lots of Libyans with expertise in the oil industry.  We have engineers.  We have administrators.  We have technicians,” Sharif said. “We have all the technical staff - all Libyans who will be able to run the oil industry and run it [well]."

Sharif also promised a break with the practices of the government of Moammar Gadhafi, which is believed to be riddled with corruption.  The issue of transparency is important enough for Human Rights Watch to call on the rebels - and Qatar - to make sure the sale of national assets are all accounted for and abide by international standards.  

The Libyan government has promised preferential treatment to those who support its cause.  On the rebel side, Sharif, too, indicates there is room for favoritism.

"The free Libya in the future will be willing to cooperate with all the international firms, especially the countries who supported our revolution and stood with us in these days - I mean the hard days.  And these will be the ones who will be given the first benefits to be our partners in rebuilding Libya in the best way," Sharif explained.

Resumption of those sales will likely be the main way the rebel government can maintain its military campaign as well as keep the east running.    

But is it legal?  Agoco, despite being run by the rebels, is still part of a state enterprise and as such is arguably under U.N., U.S. and European sanctions.    

"I think as far as the legal implications are concerned, I think it's a very gray area.  But for the moment, I think the United Nations is turning a blind eye to the sale of crude by both sides," Gurdon said.

The United Nations, which became mired in scandal monitoring the sale of oil from Iraq in the 1990s, appears to have no interest in getting involved in such issues in Libya.

The matter is not of pressing concern to Colonel Gadhafi, who political observers believe has access to billions of dollars in cash.

But for the rebels, how soon they can get more oil to market, and whether legalities continue to be overlooked, may determine if they succeed.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs