The human cost of defending Libya's oil

Wed Oct 26, 2011 10:34am EDT
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By Jessica Donati

AMAL, Libya (Reuters) - Abdula Altako was killed in March guarding the oil field he worked for, one of the first but by no means the last of Libya's oil workers to die defending the country's lifeblood.

Abandoned by their foreign owners during the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, the fields have been watched over by local workers aiming to deter looters and prevent facilities from falling into disrepair.

Altako, who worked for private German oil and gas company Wintershall, was starting his morning guard shift when he was ambushed and shot dead in his car.

"We have a lot of patriots protecting fields. I signed orders that sent engineers out that ended up dying," interim oil and finance minister Ali Tarhouni told Reuters in an interview.

Tarhouni credits the heroism of ordinary Libyans for the fact that the industry is returning to normal faster than expected. But the sacrifice will come to nothing if oil firms are not prepared to send foreign workers back.


Libya is reliant on oil for about 80 percent of its GDP, exporting around 1.3 million barrels of oil per day before the war. Other potential sources of wealth -- a neglected tourism industry and unexploited mineral reserves in the south -- will take time to develop.

Almost all of Libya's estimated $170 billion in assets are still frozen despite sweeping pledges to make funds available, and the country is desperate for cash.   Continued...

<p>A worker checks pipes and valves at Amaal oil field in eastern Libya October 7, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny</p>