MENAS Associates, London, 27 November 2023

Despite Libya’s ongoing political problems, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) remains steadfast in its mission to augment oil and gas production. On 21 November its chairman, Farhat Bengdara, held substantive discussions with the Libyan Economic Salon Foundation civil society group which focused on: the NOC’s developmental strategy; plans for production increase; and ways of financing projects beyond the conventional budgetary constraints. It also dealt with critical issues such as: fuel supplies and subsidies; enhancing transparency in the oil sector; and measures to insulating it from political tensions.

Unfortunately, however, the sector has once again become a focal point between political rivals. The eastern-based parallel Government of National Stability (GNS) has asserted its intention to withhold oil revenues from the incumbent Government of National Unity (GNU) which it accuses of exploiting for its own ends. Simultaneously the GNU is proceeding with its plans to try and increase its currently very limited control over the country’s oil fields and infrastructure.

The GNU’s Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah chaired a 21 November meeting of the Supreme Council for Energy Affairs (SCEA) on fuel supplies and the challenges linked to subsidies and smuggling. Its primary objective, however, was to project its control and advance its policies through collaboration with the NOC. Bengdara participated in the SCEA meeting and outlined plans for strategic projects aimed at boosting production and detailed efforts to reactivate the facilities in the Ras Lanuf Industrial Complex.

Bengdara is believed to be playing a crucial role as an intermediary by navigating the interests of the sector away from the political rivalry. He is maintaining a careful balancing act by consulting with the leaders of the House of Representatives (House) and Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) while simultaneously collaborating with the internationally recognised GNU to ensure that tensions do not impede the NOC’s strategy. But the GNU’s maverick oil minister Mohamed Aoun has fiercely accused Bengdara of incompetence and of exceeding his mandate. On 23 November he challenged the validity of a proposed law that the NOC submitted to the House in order to: reorganise the corporation; give it new powers; and do away with the ministry. Aoun explained that the people who prepared the legal proposal were selected from outside the oil and gas sector and lacked the necessary ‘professionalism and artistry.’ Because the legislative process ascribes proposing new laws to the government, Aoun called on Dbeibah to take ‘deterrent measures to stop such legal violation.’

Bengdara seems determined, however, to bypass Aoun and his ministry and is therefore continuing with his plans to position the NOC at the centre stage, supported by increased production and the return of the IOCs. In a bid to reactivate existing agreements the NOC met on 20 November with the Polskie Górnictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo S.A. (PGNiG) to secure its resumption of exploration activities, encompassing discussions on its 2024 programme including seismic surveying, exploratory drilling, and geological and geophysical studies. The meeting also addressed the lifting of force majeure which will pave the way for the resumption of exploration activities in Block 113 which is located between the Ghadames and Murzuq basins.