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Libya's 90,000 b/d Elephant oil field shuts down due to protests

London β€” Libya's 90,000 b/d Elephant oil field has been shut since early Fridaydue to protests by local tribes and guards, sources said Friday.

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State-owned National Oil Corporation had been holding emergency talksthis week with Tubu tribesmen -- who were demanding more regular fuelsupplies to their region -- to prevent the field's closure.

But the situation worsened and the field was shut Friday morning as theguards protecting the field walked out after a dispute over payments.

Sources said production at the field was around 72,000 b/d on Thursdaymorning.

A spokesman at the NOC was unavailable for comment.

There was an evacuation of nonessential staff Thursday at the keysouthwestern field, but production was unaffected, a source close to theNOC said.

The Elephant field, also known as El-Feel, is operated by Mellitah Oiland Gas, a joint venture of NOC and Italy's Eni.

Crude from El-Feel and Sharara is pumped in to the 120,000 b/d Zawiyarefinery and export terminal. Although the Elephant field had been ableto produce around 90,000 b/d before Libya's revolution in 2011, outputhas been volatile the last few years due to protests and deterioratingsecurity in the southern region.

The Tubu are an ethnic minority in Libya, hailing from the south of thecountry and its southern neighbors, and have long complained of beingeconomically and politically marginalized, both under the Gadhafi regimeand post-revolution governments.

Libya produced around 980,000 b/d in January, according to the latest S&PGlobal Platts survey of OPEC producers. That is well below the 1.6million b/d it produced before Gadhafi's overthrow in 2011.

Production has since fluctuated due to disruptions from frequent protestsand security threats, as well as a lack of finance. --Eklavya Gupte with Staff Reports,

--Edited by Jason Lindquist,