Thursday, January 24, 2013

Occupied Libya Boosts Oil-Field Security

January 23, 2013, 9:45 p.m. ET.

Libya Boosts Oil-Field Security


Libya is boosting security at its oil fields to avoid a repeat of the deadly attack last week in neighboring Algeria, the Libyan deputy oil minister said, as the hostage crisis reverberates through the global energy industry.

Libya will also send more troops to police its border with Algeria, which runs close to the gas field attacked by the Islamist militants, Libyan Deputy Oil Minister Omar Shakmak told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

Algerian workers stood at the In Amenas gas plant near the Libyan border on Jan. 16, in a photo secretly taken by one of the hostages.

Mr. Shakmak said he had no knowledge of a particular threat to Libya, but said Tripoli was sending more troops to the border and to desert oil fields, and boosting communications capacity, as a precautionary measure in response to the Algeria attack. "We have a concern since last week," he said.

The assault on the In Amenas field, which is operated by BP BP.LN +1.71%PLC, Statoil ASA STL.OS +1.61%and Algerian state oil company Sonatrach, left at least 37 foreign workers dead and exposed a formidable new threat for oil companies operating in the Sahara region.

Several regional experts have highlighted Libya's oil industry—where many international companies including U.S.-based ConocoPhillips, COP -0.72%Italy's Eni SpA ENI.MI -0.05%and France's Total SA FP.FR -0.18%operate—as one of the most likely targets of an attack following the Algerian incident.

Many of the country's oil and gas exploration and production sites are located in the sparsely populated deserts of western Libya, not far from the Algerian border. Following the toppling of former revolutionary leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, experts said, Libya also suffers from lax security.

"The government is weak and the early signs indicate [Libya] will take longer than anticipated" to stabilize the security situation, said Tarek Alwan, head of SOC Libya Ltd., which advises oil companies on the North African nation.

There is evidence that heavily armed militias, some tied to al Qaeda, are operating in the country. In September, combatants attacked the U.S. Consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, killing four Americans including the U.S. ambassador.

Algerian authorities believe the Islamists attacked the In Amenas complex after crossing over from the Libyan side of the border, which is about 20 miles from the site, a senior Algerian security official said. The weapons they used were also thought to have originated in Libya, the security official said.

Algerian authorities believe the armed group was led by an Algerian national and included citizens from many North African countries.

—Sarah Kent contributed to this article.

A version of this article appeared January 24, 2013, on page A10 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Libya to Enhance Oil-Field Security.

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