Mustafa Sanalla, undisputed Libyan oil boss, locked in power struggle

Blockades of oil fields continue to punctuate the mandate of Mustafa Sanalla, boss of the National Oil Corporation (NOC). At the end of December, a state of force majeure was declared on the four main fields of Sharara, El Feel, Al Wafa and Hamada, which were blocked by members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG).

They were protesting against Sanalla’s decision to replace Ahmed Ammar, chief operating officer of Akakus Oil. This subsidiary of NOC, a joint venture between the Spanish Repsol, the Australian OMV, the Norwegian Equinor and the French TotalEnergies, operates the Sharara field. Sanalla is also engaged in a dispute with the NOC’s board of directors, which issued a dissociation letter on December 23, targeting its decisions.

Supported by the Prime Minister

This latest standoff gives ammunition to Mohamed Aoun, the petroleum minister, the main opponent of the NOC boss. Twice in less than three months, the minister attacked Sanalla. Both times he failed.

On October 18, Aoun demanded that Sanalla be removed from his post as NOC president and that an administrative investigation be opened, accusing him of not having requested the necessary authorization from his ministry before entering into contract negotiations.

The minister in charge of the oil company had already requested his suspension on August 29, accusing him of having gone abroad without informing him.

But this open war between the two men has still not weakened the position of Mustafa Sanalla, 60, an experienced chemical engineer who did all his training at the NOC, which he joined in 1985, before taking over in 2014. .

Formerly at the head of the Ra’s Lanuf refinery (on the coast), he made the revival of oil his goal, skillfully dealing with the country’s various political and tribal factions to ensure that crude oil and gas continued to be extracted.

Respected by the operational troops of the NOC, it also continues to benefit from the invaluable support of Abdulhamid Dabaiba, Prime Minister of the government of national unity. The latter plays the role of mediator in the conflict between Aoun and Sanalla in order to retain power over the operations of the NOC, whose activities generate the main source of income for the country.

After the 2011 revolution which led to the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, the oil sector was virtually at a standstill. Today, it is rising from its ashes and currently represents around 65% of the GDP. Sanalla has a lot to do with it.

Double volumes by 2022

As such, the head of the NOC also benefits from the attention of the European and American chancelleries and remains an important interlocutor for the leaders of the main oil companies active in Libya, including the French TotalEnergies, the Italian ENI and the Spanish Repsol. .

Despite the recurring blockages of oil infrastructure – due to disgruntled politico-military factions and employee strikes – and their aging, production has remained on average at 1.2 million barrels per day (b / d) since beginning of the year.

With a view to reuniting the country and maintaining the ceasefire between the camps in western and eastern Libya, the NOC hopes to double its volumes and reach 2.1 million bpd in 2022. Given the continuing tensions, it will not be an easy task.

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