Libya: oil exporter to Europe

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Libya, Africa's fourth largest oil producer and holder of the continent's largest reserves, exported 80 percent of its output to Italy and France before the revolt to unseat Moamer Kadhafi began six-months ago.

With war raging, production is at a complete standstill, but according to analyst projections, output could return to half of capacity by 2012 and total capacity in 2013.

When Kadhafi came to power in 1969, oil companies, almost exclusively from the United States, extracted two million barrels-a-day (mbd) from Libyan soil. The country exported as much oil than Saudi Arabia.

But quickly, the Kadhafi regime nationalised the industry, putting oil production under the authority of the National Oil Company (NOC), a state company that would only partner with foreign companies on a project basis.

But after 20 years of international sanctions and economic isolation, world oil giants flocked back to Libya, eager to develop one of most underdeveloped reserves in the world.

In 2010, the country produced 1.55 mbd, according to data from the International Energy Agency. This grew to 1.79 mbd, if liquid natural gas and derivatives were added to the mix.

This made Libya the fourth largest producer in Africa -- after Nigeria, Angola and Algeria -- and one of the 20 largest producers in the world. Libya's crude oil output is particularly prized as it is low in sulfur and therefore easier to process.

Of the 12 members in the OPEC group of petroleum exporting countries, Libya is ninth in terms of output.

Domestic consumption in Libya was 280,000 barrels a day in 2009, and the country was able to export 1.5 mbd, nearly exclusively to Europe.

Its main client that year was Italy at 28 percent of exports, followed by France at 15 percent, China at 11 percent, and Germany and Spain at 10 percent each.

The United States only bought three percent of Libya's output.

Libya holds one of the largest oil reserves in Africa estimated at 44 billion barrels, more than Nigeria with 37.2 billion barrels and Algeria with 12.2 billion barrels.

When the uprising broke out last February, international oil conglomerates Eni, Total, BP, Shell and ExxonMobil were already present in Libya.

According to OPEC estimates, Libyan natural gas exports have nearly doubled in a only a few years from 5.4 billion cubic meters in 2005 to 10 billion cubic meters in 2010, mostly due to an undersea pipeline to Italy that has now been cut.

Natural gas reserves are estimated at 1.54 billion cubic metres.

© 2011 AFP

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