For the past 11 days, intense fighting has been raging in Libya's "Oil Crescent," home to the country's most important oil infrastructure. The violence began when the Benghazi Defense Brigades and Petroleum Facilities Guards overran the Libyan National Army (LNA) at the As Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil export terminals on March 2. Since then, the LNA, under the command of Field Marshall Khalifa Hifter, has conducted several airstrikes against the attacking militias but has yet to retake the facilities. The seizure is a blow to Libya's oil production and to Hifter's prospects for attaining power in Libya.
Hifter and the LNA took control of the terminals from the Petroleum Facilities Guards in September 2016, enabling Libya's National Oil Co. to resume production. In the time since, Libya's output has soared from 250,000 barrels per day to more than 700,000 bpd. But the attack on the Ras Lanuf and As Sidra terminals has jeopardized these gains. Oil production in Libya has already fallen by about 80,000 bpd since the fighting began, though the two captured terminals were not particularly active. Ras Lanuf, for instance, has exported only one shipment of oil this year, and As Sidra had been sending out about three cargoes a month.
To prevent a prolonged disruption, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord has already sent a new leader, Idris Bukhamada, to head the Petroleum Facilities Guard. Bukhamada pledged his allegiance to the Government of National Accord and promised that under his leadership, the Petroleum Facilities Guard would allow the National Oil Co. to continue using the seized terminals. (By contrast, the last time the militia had control of the terminals, it kept the state-owned oil firm from exporting shipments in an effort to gain concessions from Libya's rival governments.) Nevertheless, officials from the National Oil Co. have said that if the fighting doesn't abate, the firm may have to declare force majeure for some of its production.
For Hifter, meanwhile, the situation will severely undermine his clout in Libya's fractured political system. The field marshal used the boost in Libya's oil production as evidence of his leadership prowess in hopes of securing an official post in the country's next unity government. The attack, however, has weakened his bargaining position. The Benghazi Defense Brigades' members have ties with both the Government of National Accord and its rival in Tripoli, the General National Congress. Hifter and the LNA, on the other hand, are staunch supporters of the House of Representatives, which is also vying for control of the country from its base in Tobruk. Having taken the As Sidra and Ras Lanuf terminals in the Oil Crescent, the Benghazi Defense Brigades have promised to keep fighting Hifter's forces all the way to Benghazi.