Political Risks and Hobbesian Warfare Complicate Libyan Gas Supply for Europe

For ten years, since 2011, Libya has been suffering from a Hobbesian state of the war of all against all. Chaos, violence, and warfare massively impaired Libya’s oil and gas supply. In 2010 Libya was producing on average 300 million barrels a day compared to 2021, only producing around 100 million barrels a day. As Europe’s natural gas stability is in question, Libya, a potential solution, remains plagued by chaos and corruption.

The crisis is deepening, as the Army High Command praised the decision of the Parliament in Tripoli to elect Fathi Bashagha as Prime Minister of the country’s new government while the current PM, Abdul al-Hamid Dabiba, declared it illegitimate and threatened not to step down until the next elections take place.

Europe is the primary market for Libyan hydrocarbons and could benefit from by Libyan gas. However, the current infrastructure in place, such as the Greenstream 32-inch pipeline, is relatively small. It is a transnational undersea pipeline that delivers gas from Wafa field near the Algerian border deep in the desert, and from Bahr Essalam field to Sicily, Italy is relatively small. At the peak, it supplied almost 12 bcm/a.

As the demand for oil and gas is going up, and Libya continues to have valuable petroleum due to its high quality and low cost of extraction, as well as 40% of the natural gas reserves in Africa – with an increase in infrastructure and stability, Libya, together with Algeria, Azerbaijan, the EastMed pipeline, and LNG imports, could serve as a partial answer for the European gas deficit and crisis. 

The political instability that has rocked Libya since 2011 started with the ill-thought-through NATO operation to remove the dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Far from an angel, the flamboyant Qaddafi was a terrorism supporter taking responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 in 1988. Qaddafi was an oppressive tyrant, but his fall created a power vacuum that has thrown the country in turmoil.

However, the NATO operation that removed him involved massive bombings and land warfare that led to a total collapse of the central government and oil and gas production. As a result, tribal warfare and competing centers of power have emerged.  

As the Libyan government is split and met with constant conflict, they struggle to provide guarantees for the functioning of the oil and gas infrastructure. Its first shutdown was in 2011 -2012 due to the Libyan civil war. An additional protest followed this in late 2014 – Amazigh (Berber) protesters took over the port of Mellitah and effectively shut down the Greenstream pipeline. At the time of the closure, the pipeline’s capacity was down to 15.9 million cubic meters per day. Other pipelines out of Libya also suffered outages in October 2021. Es Sider pipeline production fell by 72% after a leak was discovered. 

In December 2014 and January 2016, militia forces headed by Ibrahim Jedran attacked the country’s largest oil export port, Sidra. These attacks have seriously affected the country’s production and export of oil. The Libyan public opinion was disturbed that the production and administration of petroleum were in the hands of the militia forces. Haftar took over the oil fields again in January 2022, slashing production margins.  

The political chaos has also opened the doors for Libya to serve as the last stop on a major Sub-Saharan trafficking route to Europe, leading to a vast amount of gang activity, gross human rights abuses, and hundreds of lives lost to accidents or accidents violence.  

Libya’s Hobbesian political maelstrom has attracted the international actors for years, specifically key players such as US, most of the EU, Turkey, and Qatar, and the UAE, France, Russia, and Egypt finding themselves supporting opposite ends of power.  

Turkey and Qatar have demonstrated their support for the prime minister and presidential council in Tripoli, where the UAE, Russia, and Egypt support the parliament in Tobruk. Both sides of this conflict have received aid and arms from their international partners. 

Turkey and the UAE have both openly defied the international arms embargo and sold military-grade equipment to their respective sides, thus further continuing the conflict.

A key figure in the conflict is “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar, who was once a CIA asset. The general is based on Tobruk and receives support from the Libyan parliament. 

Haftar is a powermonger that has attempted to establish himself as the new Qaddafi. For example, between April 2019 and June 2020, Haftar mobilized the Libyan National Army (LNA) to advance a 14-month offensive was launched against the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. An additional attack followed this in 2021 – both were unsuccessful. More recently, in January of 2022, Haftar was reported to be responsible for oil blockade in eastern oil fields, further hindering production.

US Congress passed the Libya Stabilization Act. This act provides legal authority to a 2016 Executive Order imposing property- and visa-blocking sanctions on persons contributing to the violence in Libya, including Haftar. Later in 2020, the US Treasury passed an economic sanctions act to block any funds, goods, or services to Haftar and his associates. The United States has blacklisted Haftar for his continued human rights abusees, torture, and forced disappearances as he continues his quest for power.  

The EU, which bears the moral responsibility for the future of Libya and has an abiding economic and migration control interests there, is failing to put meaningful sanctions against Haftar. European companies maintain economic relations with Haftar’s close associates, using front companies to trade hydrocarbons in the black market. Haftar’s oil export revenue solidifies his military grip.

To address the shortcomings in international policy toward Libya, on January 27, 2022, Congress passed measures that could help Libyans in their struggle with the ongoing political gridlock and violence. Amendments were introduced to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, which would require an overview and increase in sanctions placed on countries violating the arms embargo.

Haftar and the warring government factions constitute a significant obstacle to peace and security in Libya. Its oil and gas development are necessary for the prosperity of its much-suffering people. As such, the US, its European and Middle Eastern allies, and other actors should work diligently to stabilize the country and allow a consensus government to emerge.

The international community has a moral obligation and economic interest to restore Libya to peace. Surprisingly so far, the EU members refrain from imposing biting personal sanctions on General Haftar, his right hand Kheiri al Tamimi and their entourage despite the catastrophe in Libya — and against their own interests. Working together to prevent further conflict and thus stabilize the oil and gas production will serve to benefit the Libyan people and Europe as they look for alternatives to Russian gas. In the long term, Libyan gas and oil are high quality and inexpensive to produce. If Libya were to stabilize, both the United States and Europe could benefit long-term.

With assistance from Riley Moeder

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/arielcohen/2022/02/11/political-risks-and-hobbesian-warfare-complicate-libyan-gas-supply-for-europe/