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Anxiety in Libya's oil sector heightens amid risks of a prolonged conflict

London — Libya's oil infrastructure operators remain on high alert as the self-styled Libyan National Army's effort to capture the west of the country escalates the risk of a prolonged conflict, putting the country on the brink of civil war.

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The risk of oil supply outages are growing markedly, not only in the west of Libya, where the LNA is trying to gain ground, but also in the key eastern ports, which it already controls.

There are growing concerns that former Petroleum Facilities Guards leader Ibrahim Jadhran and Benghazi Defense Brigade militia could attack the oil ports in the Eastern Crescent as General Khalifa Haftar's LNA moves west, creating a security vacuum in east, industry sources and analysts said.

"We could see a planned attack on the Oil Crescent by Jadhran and BDB militants," an industry source said. "Warring factions in the west would welcome any opportunity to ease pressure from the southern Tripoli front."

Jadhran was previously responsible for shutting the eastern oil terminals for long periods until he was ejected in late 2016. He briefly retook them in summer 2018.

The key oil ports of Libya are Zawiya, Mellitah, Bouri and Farwah in the west, along with Marsa el-Hariga, Brega, Zueitina, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider in the east.

S&P Global Platts Analytics said almost 350,000 b/d of oil supply in the west is under immediate threat, adding that "risks of a prolonged fight are high."

STALEMATE Libya is descending into another round of armed conflict due to an escalation in violence between two rival armed political factions -- the LNA and groups linked to the UN-backed Government of National Accord.

"Fighting around Tripoli has continued but no breakthrough military advance into Tripoli has been made," Olivier Jakob, Managing Director at oil consultancy Petromatrix, said in an analyst note. "We go into this weekend with somewhat of a stalemate in Libya as the world powers that support the different sides and factions are negotiating between themselves. Haftar has not been able to make enough of a quick advance and his supply lines are likely to be thin."

Libyan crude oil production and exports remain unaffected despite the fighting, sources close to the matter said.

International oil companies such as Eni have already begun evacuating staff from Tripoli in the past week.

These developments which are occurring close to some oil and gas infrastructure have raised the risk of oil supply outages.

The town of Zawiya, which is home to a 300,000 b/d oil export terminal and a 120,000 b/d refinery, along with Sabratha, where the Mellitah gas terminal for the Greenstream pipeline to Italy is located, are key flashpoints.

Almost all of Libya's key oil terminals and infrastructure, except for those in the west, are already controlled by the LNA.

The Libyan oil industry has been at the mercy of groups vying for control of valuable assets, with armed attacks on key pipelines and production facilities since the 2011 civil war.

Crude output has recovered to over 1.06 million b/d in March, according to an S&P Global Platts survey, due to the startup of the Sharara field a month ago. That came after output dropped to a five-month low of 850,000 b/d in January.

-- Eklavya Gupte, eklavya.gupte@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Burgess, newsdesk@spglobal.com