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Libyan oil production halved : state oil boss

TRIPOLI, March 3, 2011 – Libyan oil production has been "halved" b because of the unrest nationwide, the head of the National Oil Corporation, Shukri Ghanem, told AFP on Thursday.

"Libya\’s oil production has been halved as foreign workers have left because they don\’t feel safe" amid the violent anti-regime protests gripping the country, he said.

"Libyan workers also have left but most of the foreign workers are technicians, and this has led to a reduction in production."

Ghanem, who is also de facto oil minister, refused to provide any figures on the current level of production.

But he stressed that "none of the oil installations were damaged," adding: "We continue to produce and export" oil.

"Our priority now is providing oil domestically: providing power plants with gas and fuel and crude for refineries so that normal life can continue in Libya."

Libya has an oil production of around 1.6 million barrels a day, some 85 percent of which normally goes to Europe, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Experts say eastern Libya — where the revolt erupted in mid-February — accounts for about two-thirds of Libya\’s production.

Most of the foreign oil companies in Libya, including France\’s Total and China\’s CNPC, have suspended production and evacuated their staff because of the violence ,which has killed at least 1,000 people according to UN estimates and up to 6,000 according to a Libyan rights group.

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On Wednesday the IEA said that more than half of Libya\’s oil production is not making it to the international market as the country continues to be rocked by the uprising.

"Based on available information, it would appear that between 850,000 to 1 million barrels per day out of a total of 1.6 mbd of Libyan oil production is currently shut-in," it said in a statement.

Oil prices have been soaring after popular uprisings toppled the leader of Tunisia in January, followed by long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in February.

Prices jumped on Wednesday by nearly $3 in New York as the Libyan leader made an appearance in Tripoli, where he said his country\’s oil production was at its "lowest."

"These gangs made oil companies afraid, flee and stop oil production. Oil production is at its lowest," Kadhafi said in reference what he said were Al-Qaeda-backed anti-regime activists.

World prices slipped Thursday in nervous trading as investors digested Venezuela\’s proposal for an international peacekeeping mission to avoid a brutal civil war in Libya.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in April dipped 63 cents to $115.72 per barrel.

New York\’s light sweet crude for April, known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), shed 61 cents to $101.61.

Libya\’s opposition said on Monday it was resuming oil exports suspended during anti-regime protests and had loaded a tanker with one million barrels of crude for China.

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Libya, a member of the OPEC cartel, is the fourth largest oil producer in Africa and was responsible for around 2.3 percent of global crude oil output before the crisis.

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