Since May, Libya’s oil production has seen a phenomenal bounce-back, but a dip in output reported on 21 September has underlined the fragility of the recovery and could foreshadow bigger declines to come.

On 14 September, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) announced it was pumping at a rate of 870,000 barrels a day (b/d), up from less than 100,000 b/d in May, and said it was targeting a rate of more than a billion b/d by the end of the month.

This is now looking unlikely. Figures released a week later showed that production fell between 14-21 September, dropping to just 700,000 b/d.

The main driver behind the decline was the closure of Libya’s large Sharia oil field due to security concerns, after the nearby Zawiya refinery was hit by a rocket during a militia battle.

Selected Libya oil fields 
Name  Capacity* Status Update
Waha 0.16 Open No change 
El-Sider 0.17 Shut since 6 August 2013 Pipeline protests preventing restart of field
Amana/Sirtica 0.11 Shut since 6 August 2013 Pipeline protests preventing restart of field
Sharara 0.3 Restarting Reportedly starting up; output about 70,000 barrels a day
Sarir/Mesla/Nafoora/Hamada 0.34 Open No change
Brega 0.07 Open No change
Zultun/Raguba/Al-Tahadi 0.05 Open  No change
El-Feel 0.13 Open No change
Bu Atiffel 0.1 Shut since late July 2013 Pipeline protests preventing restart of field
*=Million barrels a day. Source: Energy Aspects

Production at the field resumed on Monday. This should help push Libya’s production rate higher once again, but the field’s closure has highlighted a problem that may dog Libya’s oil sector over the coming months.

As the country sinks deeper into the chaos of war, its badly defended oil infrastructure is becoming increasingly susceptible to shutdowns.

Since Libya’s eastern rebels lifted their blockade of the country’s biggest oil terminals in July, the vast majority of the ports and oil fields have been controlled by NOC.

NOC is aligned with the House of Representatives, Libya’s elected parliament, which is based in the eastern town of Tobruk.

Over the coming months, the NOC’s control of Libya’s oil assets could be challenged by the General National Congress (GNC), a rival parliament that currently holds sway in Tripoli and has apopointed its own oil minister.

A tussle between the two rival parliaments would prove highly disruptive for production, making it increasingly unlikely that Libya will see output close to pre-revolution levels of 1.6 million b/d anytime in the near future.