By Adam Nathan
Ties between the United Kingdom and Libya’s oil and gas industries were strengthened last week at a major business event in Tunis – “Building Bridges Together”.
The October 23rd event, the biggest Libyan-British trade and investment conference ever held outside the UK, saw the signing of an ambitious ‘statement of intent’ between its host, the Libyan British Business Council (LBBC), and the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC).
Priority areas in the statement of intent, which can be read in full here, include technical training, advanced technology, restoring production at damaged sites and mature field management to maintain the NOC’s successful record of increasing Libya’s oil production to over 1.2 million barrels a day.
Chairman of the LBBC, and former ambassador to Libya, Sir Vincent Fean said that the agreement showed “the cooperation between our two organisations is permanent” and promised further meetings in 2019 to consolidate on business opportunties. “I am delighted to see some practical and constructive results from these meetings, cementing lasting partnerships – a genuine win-win,” he said.
Chairman of the NOC, Mustafa Sanalla commented: “The meetings in Aberdeen, in May, and this week in Tunis, have shown that the UK is a key partner for Libya in boosting oil production. I welcome the LBBC’s efforts and look forward to further progress in building and strengthening this partnership.”
The NOC chairman used his LBBC keynote speech to emphasise the importance of transparency, best practice and adherence to the rule of law.
Sanalla emphasised commercial law as an important lever for the creation of robust institutions. “Protecting contracts, assets, value, investment, and returns. That is the route out of chaos. The more that stakeholders are invested, the more they are engaged in the promotion of stability and security,” he stated.
Despite Libya and the NOC being sorely tested over the summer by attacks on oil ports and the NOC headquarters in Tripoli, Sanalla concluded optimistically that: “The resolution of the crisis was a welcome demonstration of solidarity of the international community, with ports being returned quickly to our operational control. Most importantly, when push came to shove, the ‘rule of law’ held.”
Sanalla added that he hoped for a period of calm and would like to see oil production rise to as much as 2 million barrels a day by 2020.
Frank Baker, the British ambassador to Libya, praised Sanalla and the NOC as bastions of stability in Libya and revealed that one of the NOC employees injured in a suicide attack at the NOC’s headquarters over the summer had been flown to the UK for treatment.
Baker said: “The NOC continues to lead the way among sovereign institutions in Libya. Their operations have been tested seriously and rigorously over the summer, in the worst possible way, but they have withstood those problems and have been able to maintain the role of helping to get Libya back up on its feet and helping to fund Libya’s future. And oil production has remained increasing month on month and year on year.”
LBBC’s Building Bridges Together event took over 60 representatives to meet more than 120 Libyan business counterparts. Delegates discussed the need to stabilise Libyan oil production with many existing fields undergoing depletion rates of 7-8 percent and requiring development drilling and many aging fields suitable for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technologies. New (on-shore and off-shore) oil and gas exploration sites were becoming available with numerous tenders in the pipeline.
Peter Millett, a Director of the LBBC and the UK’s previous ambassador to Libya, who hosted a panel on business opportunities in the oil and gas sector, concluded that in order to maintain increases in oil production the NOC would require support for “more investment, more involvement in redevelopment, modernisation and capacity building in both engineering, education and security” which the UK was “willing and able” to provide.