Gunmen, possibly Islamists, take over Libya's major oilfield

BENGHAZI/TUNIS - Gunmen seized Libya's major El Sharara oilfield, looting equipment and shooting as frightened workers sought shelter, oil sources said on Wednesday, in another blow to the country's oil industry which has been subjected to protests and militia blockades.
It was unclear exactly what happened at the field, which at maximum capacity produces about 340,000 barrels per day. It is Libya's biggest operational field, located in the remote south where rival tribes have clashed since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted three years ago.
The closure is a blow to government efforts to keep oil production isolated from the spreading chaos in the North African country, where two prime ministers, parliaments and army chiefs of staff compete for control.
The closure will lower the OPEC member's oil production, last reported at around 800,000 barrels per day, by at least 200,000 bpd.
The field produced at least 200,000 bpd before the shutdown, the sources said. It had been running below capacity as some wells had been lost due to previous closures by local people in the past 12 months.
The closure will have an impact on the 120,000 bpd-Zawiya refinery, which is fed by El Sharara and supplies the capital with fuel products.
A source in the state oil security force said the management had shut down production after gunmen with heavy weapons stormed the field late on Tuesday, wounding 13 workers.
An oil worker at the field said staff there had also been shooting on Wednesday and some workers had sought shelter inside company buildings. The facility is operated by Libya's state oil company and Spain's Repsol.
The oil security force said the attackers belonged to an Islamist group, while the online magazine Libya Herald said they were supporters of an armed group that had seized the capital Tripoli in August.
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