Mr. Refaat Mohammed Alabbar, Deputy Minister of Oil & Gas for Productions Affairs at the Government of National Unity in Libya, gave recently a media interview covering a variety of topics. In the context of the current crisis in the world and in Libya, as well as the opportunities rising due to the increase in the price of crude oil, he stated that the political differences in the country should not prevent Libya from increasing production, exports and therefore revenue which will provide people with new possibilities and achievements and overcome past and current challenges, giving Libyans new horizons for a better life.
Q: What are your strategic aspirations as a deputy minister (DM) responsible for oil and gas production and why did many describe you as upholding complete impartiality of this ministerial portfolio?
DM: Since assuming office, we have committed ourselves to the necessity of coordination with all sovereign institutions, ending the existing division in the country, unifying work and rejecting differences for the sake of the continuity and stability of oil and gas exports. We are also supporting employees and workers, the basis of production operations, maintaining the unity and cohesion of the oil sector which contributes to the unity of the country and supports its aspirations for a transition to peace and development.
Q: How do you think Libya will overcome the crisis and move into times of peace and growth?
DM: Everyone must bear their responsibility towards the oil and gas sector especially at these moments when the price of a barrel of oil rises to more than USD88, and we must take advantage of this opportunity in international markets immediately for the recovery and growth of the country and at the same time to achieve economic savings.
We are also working with the state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC) to overcome various obstacles in order to facilitate the progress of production operations in fields and port terminals, from the Mellitah complex in the West to the Hariga port in the East, despite the many challenges we face due to poor funding. Certainly the previous events led to great destruction in the country.
Furthermore, during our meeting with the Prime Minister of National Unity, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and the Chairman of the National Oil Corporation Administration Committee last year, we also stressed the need to include the decision to raise wages for employees and workers in the oil sector because it has a role in stabilizing production, increasing exports and therefore enhancing state revenues.
Q: How do you intend to attract foreign investment flows in the oil and gas sector in the immediate future?
DM: We work intensively right now with our international partners to create a safe and attractive investment environment to major companies. Of note, there are efforts by the ministry of oil and gas to use modern mechanisms and comprehensive programs to develop fields and raise their production. As well as to achieve new explorations of oil and gas to raise the country’s production and exploit resources in line with global demand today, without letting the difficulties the country is going through affecting it.
Q: Which is Libya’s current production level and what do you foresee for the future? Will it be maintained and increased or not?
DM: Yes, the production is stable for the moment, more than 1 million barrel per day. This is thanks to the workers and employees and all related parties in the oil and gas sector who put great effort. We aspire to raise exports above 1.4 million if the appropriate conditions are available for this, and above all, the necessary funds to activate better maintenance and development operations and pay dues. The oil and gas sector since the beginning of production in 1961 contributes more than 96% of the total value of exports. Top export destinations currently are Italy, Spain, China, Germany, Canada, France and more in the near future.
In addition, the oil and gas sector supports more than 66,000 local workers and provides foreign exchange, which is the mainstay of the national economy. The role of the oil sector begins with production and ends with export. The sector receives its budget like any other institution, and the biggest challenge remains how to use well oil money in order to diversify the national economy.
We also need to use clean energy sources such as wind, sun and green hydrogen that will enable Libya to reduce the severe energy shortage it faces, such as of electricity and reduce dependence on hydrocarbons and the consequent huge sums of money, as well as create new jobs and support the general budget as well. Our concern is to protect the climate and reduce emissions, in line with international efforts.
As it is widely know, Libya is a member of the OPEC since 1962 and is committed to achieving stability in the international energy market. Also, the oil and gas sector has already achieved large inflows of foreign currencies from the sales of oil, gas, petrochemicals, natural gas and oil derivatives, and these incomes contribute to supporting the authorities’ plans and achieving the dream of the Libyans and carrying out some basic economic reforms using oil income to increase or build better education, better health care by rehabilitation of oil gas facilities as soon as possible.
The recovery and development of the oil sector will make Libya a major investment destination, providing opportunities to many countries, whether Arab neighboring countries or Western countries, and help the Libyans in the reconstruction of the country.
Oil and gas are international commodities that have a very big impact and are affected by domestic, regional and international factors. As you know, the Libyan political crisis since 2011 has had negative effects on the largest producing sectors in the country. The repeated closures, protests and turmoil as well as ISIS attacks on transportation lines and port terminals, have caused technical damage to the oil fields, making them lose production capabilities for long periods.
All this happened because of the political vacuum in the country and we refused to use oil as a means or performance to provoke any party. The Libyan oil sector needs time to recover from previous turmoil. We lost large sales quotas in previous years, which deprived Libya of very huge revenues. In addition the delay of the adoption of budgets for the sector due to political differences, undoubtedly, caused billions of dinars in losses in foreign investment and deprived Libyans from quality of life.