Europe, Asia flock to Tripoli: Given its geographic position and the enormous potential of its oil and gas reserves, the world's energy companies are beating a path to Libya's door. Neil Ford has the details.

Author:Ford, Neil
Position:Special Report
 
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While much has been made of the return of US firms to Tripoli and growing investment by Asia's oil and gas companies in the country, it is European companies that have made the biggest commitment to Libya.

BP's investment in the North African state was announced with great publicity by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in June, while Italian firm Eni revealed that it is to greatly increase its Libyan operations.

Access to oil may have grabbed all of the headlines when President Muammar Ghaddafi first embraced the international community, but it is Libya's proximity to Europe that appears to be driving ever greater interest in the country's hydrocarbons.

BP's relationship with Gaddafi has come full circle since the British firm's Libyan assets were nationalised in 1974, along with the upstream holdings of many other foreign firms. However, its new oil accord with the Libyan Investment Corporation (LIC) has been described by Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, as the firm's biggest investment in exploration.

It has also taken hard months of negotiation between the company and the NOC to bring it about. A BP spokesperson commented: "We've been in talks with Libya since we signed a memorandum of understanding with them at the end of 2005. We're looking at opportunities for natural gas exploration and production."

Under the agreement, BP will invest about $2bn in exploration and production projects in the Ghadames and Sirte basins. Visiting Tripoli to announce the preliminary deal in mid-2007, Blair was keen to underline the improving relations between Tripoli and the West. He said: "The relationship has been transformed to where we will be announcing a whole series of measures on future cooperation on counter terrorism and commercial contracts."

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The chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC), Shokri Ghanem, said: "We called it a gas accord because BP will be exploring in gas prone areas. Whether it finds oil or gas, it will have to share any discovery."

The Libyan government is expected to take a 77.5% share of any reserves, with the LIC taking 3.375% and BP the remaining 19.125%.

Appraisal costs should reach $800m and providing commercial oil and gas discoveries are made, an additional $1.2bn will be invested in upstream development.

There is as yet no marketing deal for any finds, which are unlikely to come on stream for a long time to come but the British firm hopes to develop liquefied natural gas...

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