Rebels welcome oil partners from Qaddafi regime

The Libyan rebels seek to reassure foreign companies that they will honor Qaddafi-era contracts, part of their strategy for a swift oil industry restart.

"Oil companies and contractors and anyone who has a stake in this country is welcome to come back," said Ahmed Jehani, right, the council's minister of infrastructure and reconstruction.
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The Libyan rebels have been seeking to welcome back business partners of Muammar Qaddafi's regime, part of a strategy to restart oil production quickly.

The National Transitional Council, the rebel government, plans to honour old contracts and has held talks with all oil companies that were pumping in Libya before the conflict, a rebel leader said in Dubai late on Tuesday.

"Oil companies and contractors and anyone who has a stake in this country is welcome to come back," said Ahmed Jehani, the council's minister of infrastructure and reconstruction. Those companies would be instrumental in helping to lift international sanctions, he added.

Libya, a member of Opec, pumped 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) before civil war broke out in February but production has plummeted to about 300,000 bpd, according to the International Energy Agency in Paris.

Industry estimates of the time needed to regain pre-conflict pumping levels have ranged from six months to the three years predicted by Wood Mackenzie, the energy consultancy.

The question is how soon will international companies be willing to send in foreign staff.

Yesterday Eni, the Italian energy company that was Libya's biggest foreign investor before the conflict, emerged as the most vocal contender to re-enter Libya, telling Reuters that it had spoken to the council on a daily basis since April.

But Spain's Repsol, Germany's Wintershall and other companies that pumped Libyan oil before February have been more reluctant to say whether talks have taken place.

The rebels' assurances that communication lines were open contrasts with the relative silence of the foreign players, signifying a reluctance from the business community to align with loyalists or rebels before a clear political outcome emerges.

Mr Jehani, who previously worked as a lawyer for the Libyan state oil company, said a team of 100 Libyans engineers and oil traders was studying how to restart its core industry and that pre-conflict production could be regained in one year.

"The damage is not very significant," Mr Jehani said. "A lot of that work will be a maintenance programme rather than full repair … You can't imagine—with some competition, companies can do wonders."

Bringing back oil companies that won production-sharing contracts from the Qaddafi regime is integral to a quick restart, he said.

"Part of our policy of stabilisation is not to cause disruptions," he said. "The council is in caretaker mode. What we do will be conservative."