Oil Companies Plan Evacuations From Libya

By JULIA WERDIGIER and RACHEL DONADIO/NYTimes

LONDON — Global oil companies said Monday that they were making plans to evacuate employees in Libya after some operations there were disrupted by political unrest. Libya holds the largest crude oil reserves in Africa, and the moves drove some stock prices down and a crucial oil benchmark to a three-year high.

The largest and most established foreign energy producer in Libya, Eni of Italy, said in a statement that it had begun repatriating “nonessential personnel” and the families of its employees.

The Norwegian energy company Statoil, which operates in Libya in partnership with Repsol of Spain and Total of France, said that it would close its office in Tripoli and that a handful of foreign workers were leaving. “The safety of our personnel is our main priority,” said a spokesman, Bard Glad Pedersen.

OMV of Austria, which produces about 34,000 barrels of oil a day in Libya, said it planned to evacuate 11 workers and their families, leaving only essential staff.

Shares in Eni and OMV dropped Monday, while the price of Brent crude, an important benchmark for oil traded in London, rose to $104.60 a barrel, the highest level since 2008.

“We’re concerned, and of course we’d like to see a solution sooner rather than later,” said Jason Kenney, an analyst with ING Financial Markets. “It’s very difficult to see how this is going to go. The oil price will be volatile.”

The British oil company BP, which has only exploration operations in Libya, said it was planning to evacuate some of its 40 foreign workers, mostly from Tripoli, where the unrest spread to Sunday. It also said it had suspended preparations for a drilling project because employees of a contractor had been evacuated.

“We, like everyone, are watching this very, very carefully,” BP’s chief executive, Robert Dudley, said. “We have operations there that are very limited. We remain committed to doing business there.”

For many years, Libya was shunned by most foreign oil companies because of its anti-American government and ties to terrorist organizations. Eni was an exception, with operations there since 1959, and current major stakes in four fields.

Ever since Italy’s brief colonial adventure in Libya in the early 20th century, the country has been a cornerstone of Italian foreign policy. In recent years, Italian blue-chip companies including Unicredit and Eni have come to rely on infusions of Libyan capital.

In 2003, when Libya struck a deal with the United States and Britain in which it promised not to develop weapons of mass destruction, international sanctions against it were lifted, and Eni was joined by other foreign oil companies.

In Egypt, where protests led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, oil companies said operations had returned to normal. Statoil and BP said most employees who had left Egypt were back on the job.

Julia Werdigier reported from London and Rachel Donadio from Rome.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/world/africa/22oil.html?_r=1&smid=tw-nytimes&seid=auto