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One step forward, one back, for Libya rebels' oil exports

Libya's rebels have found a way to export oil through a pipeline to Tobruk

LIBYA'S rebels have found a way to export 200,000 to 250,000 barrels a day (b/d) of oil through a pipeline to Tobruk, by by-passing a booster station that was destroyed in a loyalist attack on 21 April. But another attack, on 12 June, on the Misla and Sarir oilfields, which supply the line with crude, has ended hopes of a swift production resumption.

The fields have been shut in since early April, when a platoon of Muammar Qadhafi's forces crossed the desert to launch rockets at surface facilities.

The attack on the pipeline was considered the more damaging, preventing the rebels from exporting crude oil from Tobruk to earn vital financial support for their war effort. The rebels sold just one cargo of crude from Tobruk before the line was damaged, earning them an estimated $120 million.

It was thought earlier that the pipeline could not begin operations again until the booster station was replaced. A new unit would have to be imported from abroad and installed by a foreign company. But a senior rebel source said it was now possible to by-pass the booster station. Up to 250,000 b/d of oil could flow through the line without the need for a booster to increase pressure.

Meanwhile, rebel sources said they would not destroy a pipeline linking oilfields in the south of western Libya to the Zawiyah refinery, near Tripoli.

Small production volumes from these fields have kept the refinery operating. Western diplomatic sources said aerial surveillance showed the plant may be processing at about 30% of its 120,000 b/d capacity – suggesting it is also still refining feedstock supplied from storage.

The regime has up to 4 million barrels of crude stored in Ras Lanuf, Sidra and Mellitah, close to Zawiyah.

But rebel and western diplomatic sources said no attack would be made on the pipeline to Zawiyah, which passes through land in the western mountains now under their control. An attack on the pipeline, or on the natural gas line supplying Tripoli, would "hand too great a PR victory to Qadhafi", said one source.

Previously, rebels had considered cementing a valve to stop the flow of oil through the line.

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