Gaddafi, 68, took control of Ras Lanuf and Brega oil facilities and moved near Benghazi, the center of the rebellion, as the United Nations Security Council voted to establish a no- fly zone over Libya.
His threat to bring China into the energy business that Italy has enjoyed for five decades may reshape the economic map of the country holding Africa’s biggest oil reserves.
“If Gaddafi wins, Libya will look to the east for support,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar, in a telephone interview. “Western companies won’t get back in any time soon and won’t be able to invest. The Libyan economy will be devastated for years.”
Even without outright expropriation, a Gaddafi victory may lead to Western sanctions that would roll back almost 10 years of European and US investment in Libya. The 2004 reprieve from two decades of trade restrictions allowed companies such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell to invest in Libyan fields, boosting output to about 1.6 million barrels a day, most of which was sold to Europe.
Libya’s oil output slumped to a “trickle” by last week, according to the International Energy Agency. The conflict, which has left hundreds dead, has helped push up Brent crude prices by about 20 percent this year. Libya’s crude exports may be halted for “many months” because of damage to oil facilities and international sanctions, the IEA said this week.
Gaddafi threatened to replace western oil firms with companies from India and China in a 2 March speech and more than 10 days later discussed possible investments with the ambassadors of the two countries and Russia, state-run television reported.
Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini told Italian lawmakers on March 16 that “China’s reasoning is an economic one” when it comes to Libya.
Rome-based Eni, Italy’s largest oil company, France’s Total and Spain’s Repsol are among foreign companies that have evacuated their staff and scaled down production in Libya. More than 20 percent of the oil imported by Austria, Ireland and Italy is Libyan crude, the IEA said.
“I don’t consider relations with Libya compromised,” Eni chief executive officer Paolo Scaroni told investors in London on 16 March. “We maintain relations with the national oil company, which is our natural counterpart.”
He said he asked US. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Frattini to ensure that gas production for the local population be excluded from any ultimate sanctions against Libya.
Libya will retain all contracts with Eni and honor existing contracts with foreign companies, Shokri Ghanem, chairman of National Oil Corp., told Italian media.
“We have an excellent relationship with Eni, a company that’s been working here since the 1950s and is among the most important oil producers in Libya,” he was quoted as saying.
Eni’s shares have fallen almost 10 percent since mid- February, when anti-Gaddafi protests erupted, inspired by popular revolts that led to the ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak this year. Repsol shares have declined 7 percent.