Despite a prolific rebound in the last quarter of the year, Libya’s crude production in 2020 is still set for its lowest level since 1962 at just 341,000 b/d. That represents a 69% fall on 2019’s seven-year high of 1.11mn b/d, making this year the worst since the 2011 revolution in output terms. It is also two-thirds down on even the worst performing years of Muammar Gaddafi’s sanctions-hit regime (see chart 1).

It seems the best Libya can hope for from 2020 is that its sheer devastation proves to be the seed setting the country on a course to unification and national renewal. But that is still far from certain. Although an October ceasefire between previously-warring eastern and western camps is still holding, initial optimism from ongoing peace talks has gradually led to skepticism and doubt.

COULD THE HOUSE IMPLODE?

Delegates supposedly from all corners of Libya’s fragmented political scene have so far failed to agree on a transitional government that would lead the country in the run up to elections set for December 2021. And there are signs from the east and west which threaten the durability of the ceasefire.

In any case, the oil that promises to rebuild the country is flowing again. Production is currently pushing 1.3mn b/d - quite remarkable for an industry which was mostly blockaded for eight months of the year (MEES, 20 November). “But for how long?” is always the question in modern day Libya. 

Global markets and particularly Opec has watched in awe at the speed of its ramp up to pre-blockade levels. Following a mid-September ‘deal’ between one member of the Tripoli government and its rival administration in the east, crude and condensate output jumped from 100,000 b/d to around 1.25mn b/d by mid-November. Further incremental gains have now put the National Oil Corporation (NOC) within touching distance of its end-year 1.3mn b/d target (MEES, 18 December).

Charts included Libya’s Crude Output (Mn B/D) Is Set For Its Lowest Level Since 1962, The Country’s Second Year Of Production

SOURCE: OPEC ASB, MEES.

DUSTING OFF PLANS

NOC aims for another 300,000 b/d by the end of next year, hoping to bring total output to 1.6mn b/d – a level not seen since 2008. But how realistic is this?

On paper at least, NOC has the plans. Setting out its action plan last year, NOC said it sees near-term gains coming from a “combination of workovers on existing wells, infill drilling, improved artificial lift capabilities, new power generation projects, repair of damaged tanks, maintenance and replacement of pipelines and reinstating damaged fields” (MEES, 22 November 2019).

Libya’s struggle to exit the chaos following the 2011 overthrow of Gaddafi has taken a heavy toll on the country’s oil infrastructure which was already creaking owing to years of sanctions. Insufficient maintenance work has left several fields woefully underproducing. So aside from new projects, NOC sees the bulk of its 300,000 b/d target coming from its existing facilities.

But, as always, this is dependent on a stable security situation, the return of foreign services firms and sufficient budgets – something NOC head Mustafa Sanalla has complained his company hasn’t received for years and even now oil revenues remain in limbo (MEES, 27 November). On the off-chance that things come together for NOC, it also has a slew of projects which could help with its end-2021 target.

As is usual following lengthy output disruptions, NOC has been dusting off longstanding development plans. It has met with partners including Total, Eni and Schlumberger over the past few weeks, and the firms have pledged to push ahead with existing production plans.

MEES has compiled a list of such projects that are at varying stages of the development spectrum (see table). If all goes to plan, incremental gains from both previously shut-in fields and even newer developments could significantly bolster its 2021 production. But if MEES were willing to place a wager, 1.6mn b/d by the end of next year is not one it would take. Even in a relatively good year, NOC would also have to contend with an estimated 7-8% natural decline.

Still, there is room for cautious optimism. NOC subsidiary Agoco brought online Libya’s first new oil project since the 2011 revolution in October. The 50,000 b/d Sinawin development (see map) located in Ghadames Basin’s Block NC-100, has started off at an initial 10,000 b/d, with a further 40,000 b/d targeted soon after (MEES, 6 November). Agoco said it had completed a 20,000 b/d expansion project at its portion of the Nafoora field in May with a second phase planned for the end of 2021.

Maps included Libya’s Planned Oil & Gas Projects

Libya’s Planned Oil & Gas Projects

What is perhaps more promising is the potential return of the once-120,000 b/d capacity Dahra field in the Sirte Basin which was “completely destroyed” by Islamic State militants in 2015.

MEES understands the Waha Oil Company-operated field could restart as early as March at an initial rate of 10,000 b/d. This would come from the resumption of output at three small stations, two of which produce 4,000 b/d and another 2,000 b/d.

Waha – grouping NOC (59.18%) with Total (16.33%), ConocoPhillips (16.33%) and Hess (8.16%) – is also busy trying to restart the second phase of Faregh, which had previously been forced to shut shortly after the start of the January blockade as storage capacity for its condensate output was filled up. The first phase has already resumed at 70mn cfd and is now supplying the 855MW nameplate capacity Sarir power plant (MEES, 11 December).

A source close to the matter tells MEES that Waha is now waiting on Siemens to carry out “a few small tasks” before it can fire up phase-2 which is planned for the end of January. Potential output here of about 150mn cfd would boost total production to 220mn cfd and 9,000 b/d of condensate. Another 30mn cfd is expected to come from two new development wells which would also add 6,000 b/d of condensate.

NOC subsidiary Zallaf Oil Company which was set up in 2013 to takeover projects abandoned by exiting IOCs also looks finally set to get its hands dirty with the development of its 16,000 b/d Erawin fields project. This was relinquished by Spanish firm Repsol in 2015 along with several other blocks.

Zallaf earlier this month said it was moving the ‘NWD50’ rig from Misrata to Erawin in the Murzuq Basin with drilling operations expected by the end of the year. In other words, drilling could be just days away. Output is slated to come from Erawin fields E, G & H, which volumes tied to the 300,000 b/d El Sharara field’s pipeline system to the Zawiya storage terminal in Tripolitania.

And in a sign that Zallaf is pressing ahead with other projects under its remit (MEES, 20 September 2019), on 19 December the firm said it had successfully removed a packer from 1968 at its Chadar field. This was originally discovered by Mobil in the same year but was abandoned due to major technological challenges. Who knows, perhaps Zallaf has cracked the code. It says it aims to tie in any eventual output (of mostly gas) to the Faregh facilities some 30km east.

Then there is NOC golden boy Sirte Oil Company which just last week announced it had managed to almost double output to 100,000 b/d from 55,000 b/d before the blockades began in January (MEES, 18 December). This is Sirte Oil’s highest level since 2006 and it is aiming for more. Another 30,000 b/d is planned by the end of 2021, with some of this partly expected to come from the undeveloped ‘LP3D’ discovery in the Sirte Basin.

Tables included Libya: Key Upstream Projects

Name Start '000 b/d mn cfd Firms Block* Basin Notes
Faregh (phase-2) Nov19 15 180 Waha 107/59 Sirte Plans to restart in January. Two more wells planned.
Nafoora (expansion). May20 20 Agoco NC-51 Sirte Second phase planned by end-21
Sinawin (phase 1) Oct20 10 Agoco NC-100 Ghadames First fresh oil project to start up since the 2011 revolution
Dahra Mar21 10+ Waha 087/32 Sirte Initial output of 10,000 b/d planned for March
Erawin fields 2H21 16 Zallaf NC-200 Murzuq Development well expected imminently
Sinawin (phase 2) 2021 40 significant Agoco NC-100 Ghadames Phase-2 to bring output to 50,000 b/d, with gas and condi
LP3D 2021 Sirte Oil 105/LP3D Sirte Part of Sirte Oil plan to add 30,000 b/d in 2021
Mabruk 2021? 40 Mabruk C17 Sirte Recent NOC meeting with Total on Mabruk restart
Chadar 2022? Zallaf NC-106 Sirte Removed a production packer from 1968 on 17 December
North Hamada 2023? 50 90 Nafusah Area 47 Ghadames EPF planned for first 10,000 b/d phase
Structures A&E 2023 35 760 Mellitah NC-41 Offshore Eni plans to take FID in 2021
Bouri GUP 2023 85 Mellitah NC-41 Offshore Eni plans to take FID in 2021
Atshan fields 200 Zallaf NC-151, 210 Murzuq 150mn cfd planned to supply Ubari power plant
Haram Agoco C47 Sirte Preliminary plans for 80,000 b/d from Bayda and Haram
Bayda revamp Agoco C47 Sirte Preliminary plans for 80,000 b/d from Bayda and Haram
Gialo III 53 58 Waha 107/59 Sirte Gialo field rejuvination project. Petfoc completed Feed
North Gialo 100 Waha 107/59D Sirte Part of plans to double Waha capacity to 600,000 b/d
NC-98 80 480 Waha NC-98 Sirte All gas to be reinjected to bolster condensate production
*AS BLOCK NUMBERING HAS BEEN CHANGED IN RECENT YEARS, THE MOST COMMONLY USED NAME FOR EACH BLOCK HAS BEEN GIVEN.
SOURCE: COMPANY PRESS RELEASES, MEES.

DAMAGED FIELDS POTENTIAL

As for bringing back more conflict-damaged fields, Total and NOC met up on 1 December to discuss the rehabilitation of the 40,000 b/d Mabruk field shared between the two companies. Mabruk has been offline since 2015 when it was also ransacked by Islamic State-affiliated gunmen. Could 2021 be the year it finally makes a comeback?

In total, NOC reckons 120,000 b/d could return from damaged fields including Dahra (Waha), Bahi (Waha) and Zenad (Harouge). Ghani (Harouge) was already brought back last December (MEES, 3 January).

Beyond 2021, NOC is looking to boost output to 2.1mn b/d. While the further tie-in of shut-in wells as well as power generation increases would help towards this aim, the bulk of the additions would have to come from new projects at existing discoveries.

Medco appeared to breath new life into the 50,000 b/d North Hamada development last month after looking to sell for most of the year (MEES, 27 November). Plans for the project (Medco 25%, NOC 50%, Libyan Investment Authority 25%) are already well advanced (MEES, 31 May), with the award of an EPC contract seemingly next.

But Waha is key to the big gains. Mr Sanalla has said Waha could easily double capacity to 600,000 b/d with sufficient investment. The plan here is to add 100,000 b/d through the development of North Gialo as well as 80,000 b/d from ‘A&F’ structures on Block NC-98. When Total was finally allowed into the Waha concession last year after buying out US-firm Marathon’s stake (MEES, 13 December 2019) it pledged $650mn for its share of the two developments. This implies a combined overall price-tag of around $3.33bn.

And then there is the ‘Gialo III’ project at the existing 130,000 b/d nameplate capacity Gialo field which appears to be aimed at recovering output by rejuvenating existing facilities as well as building a new production unit. UK services firm Petrofac completed Feed for this last week which envisions 53,000 b/d of crude and 58mn cfd of gas (MEES, 18 December).

And on the gas front Eni and NOC have long-standing plans to bolster offshore Bahr Essalam’s 1.1bn cfd capacity with the ‘Structures A & E’ project (MEES, 31 July). The $5.6bn development (of 760mn cfd and 35,000 b/d condensate) has been delayed countless times but it may actually stand a slightly better chance of going ahead given its offshore location away from potential conflict and instability on land.

Zallaf also has plans to develop the Atshan fields in the Murzuq basin to channel 150mn cfd of its 200mn cfd potential to the 640MW Ubari power plant 170km away (MEES, 19 January 2019).

All of these plans will cost money. NOC reckons about $60bn in total will be needed to reach its 2.1mn b/d goal. Unfortunately this year’s Covid-related slump almost guarantees slimmer IOC capex budgets for years to come. And in the fast-changing world of oil and gas, one important question for Libya is the extent to which it will still be able to attract financing for traditional upstream projects – a prolific flarer, the North African country is hardly known for its ESG credentials (MEES, 24 July).

In any case, Libya's long-term attractiveness is still there. Its low-cost reserves, proximity to markets and massive upstream potential seperate it from the competition. But with the energy tranisiton looming, Libya somehow needs to get its house in order. The clock is ticking.