It’s all so confusing!

At the risk of sounding horribly incompetent, there’s a lot that I don’t understand about the oil industry. Good news though; it seems as though other people don’t either.

Here’s an example of just how bewildering the whole thing is. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to research the oil industry in Libya, in preparation for a field assessment for Revenue Watch Institute. I started by trying to find out which oil companies are (or were) producing oil in Libya; easy enough, as they seem to be listed on the Libyan National Oil Corporation website.

Much to my annoyance, that’s pretty much the only thing that ended up being “easy”. I was tasked with finding out how much oil they were each producing, and then finding out what share of the oil produced was going to the Libyan state and how much to the International Oil Companies. With that knowledge, it would have been straightforward to estimate how much money Libya should have earned from their oil, and how much money the International Oil Companies were making.

While I wasn’t exactly expecting the Libyan National Oil Corporation to clearly set out their accounts for everyone to see, I did have higher expectations of the International Oil Companies; call me naive, but surely the big, European companies would be required by law to set out where they were working and their shares in the oil fields? I’m talking really big companies here; Total (France), Eni (Italy), and Repsol (Spain), to name a few.

Apparently not. Out of the three just listed, only Eni listed in their Annual Report how much oil they produced and from which fields, as well as stating their share from the contracts drawn up with the Libyan National Oil Corporation. For Total and Repsol, the closest I could get to finding a figure was from some news articles written in 2009, and it’s impossible to know the accuracy of their data. The same was true for the majority of the other IOCs working in Libya, leaving me to rely largely on news articles for finding out figures.

But even with news articles, the way that the industry is reported on varies greatly. One of the most annoying things about it all is the way that the oil fields are named- or rather, not named. It seems quite commonplace to rename fields on a whim, or to refer to them by number rather than letter, by Arabic name, or by a weird English version of the Arabic name. For example; El Feel, Elephant, ex EPSA 90, and EPSA IV area E, all refer to the same oil field. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Libyan NOC didn’t want people to be tracing oil flow throughout the country…

And just to give you an idea of how many oil fields I’m talking about, here’s a map of Libya, split into the oil blocks, as allocated by the Libyan National Oil Corporation:

Down the side is the list of 46 oil companies that are working in Libya, or at least who were in 2009. Lucky for me, the majority of those fields are not yet producing so we’re not too bothered about them for this purpose.

There have been many other hiccups along the way, due to oil companies deciding to change their names, swap shares with other companies, or working under 100% owned subsidiaries with different names for example… but, finally, we have produced a 5 page Excel spreadsheet, 3 colour coded pie charts, and a list of 13 questions to which we don’t know the answer.

You can find the questions on the Libya section of this site under Current Projects, or just click here; we’re hoping that friendly oil experts from around the world will help us put together a clearer picture of what has happened to all of Libya’s petrodollars…any ideas, give us a shout!

PS- Did you know that the Libyan state has shares in Juventus football club, Penguin books, the Financial Times, and HSBC bank, amongst hundreds of other companies?!


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