Restarting Libya's Valuable Oil Exports Won't Be Easy The revolution in Libya has strangled the country's oil exports for months. Even after the current conflict is settled, restarting production and distribution of the high-quality oil, which makes up 2 percent of the world's supply, could take years.
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Restarting Libya's Valuable Oil Exports Won't Be Easy

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Restarting Libya's Valuable Oil Exports Won't Be Easy

Restarting Libya's Valuable Oil Exports Won't Be Easy

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

As NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, there's a lot of interest in getting Libya's oil wells up and running again but no certainty as to when that might happen.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Normally, Libya exports only about two percent of what the world uses. Nonetheless, as economist Rayola Dougher of the American Petroleum Institute points out, two percent is actually a lot in an oil market that has practically no surplus.

RAYOLA DOUGHER: Because it's that margin of difference between supply and demand in the world. And when you take off that supply at a time when the world's demand was growing, that can have a very big impact on the price.

JOYCE: Dan Hill is a petroleum engineer at Texas A&M University.

JOYCE: Restarting that type of well can be as simple as opening one valve and flipping one switch.

JOYCE: But restarting wells doesn't mean Libya can pump the one-and-a-half million barrels a day it used to. Libya's oil operation has been standing still for months when it should have been drilling.

JOYCE: An oil field operation is not just, you know, you go drill a few wells and turn them on and let them go for 10 years. There's a constant drilling of new wells occurring replacing wells that are abandoned.

JOYCE: One other problem Libya faces: Most of its oil workers are foreigners and they fled Libya months ago. Nonetheless, international oil companies are eager to get back into Libya. As Dougher from the American Petroleum Institute points out, the biggest obstacle they'll face will be political.

DOUGHER: It really is the instability, and the political instability there. And no one really knowing who's going to be in charge and how this is going to unfold and what this government is going to look like.

JOYCE: In fact, Libya's politics have long kept the country from pumping as much oil as it did in the 1960s. Jim Burkhard, an oil analyst at IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, says when Libya's oil fields opened up again to foreign companies, about seven years ago, it was hard going.

JIM BURKHARD: Some of the contracts that were signed in Libya were very advantageous for the Libyan government, but they weren't very attractive for some of the investors. So that had a impact of slowing the pace of investment.

JOYCE: Even if it takes years to restore high levels of production, Burkhard points out that at least Libya has a ready asset.

BURKHARD: Libya does have an advantage over Egypt or Syria, in that they have a very important asset, namely their oil fields. And they have a relatively small population.

JOYCE: Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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