ROME/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Italian energy company Eni and Libya’s National Oil Corporation on Saturday signed an $8 billion gas production deal aimed at boosting energy supplies to Europe despite insecurity and political chaos in the North African country.
The agreement, which was signed during Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s visit to Tripoli, aims to increase gas production for the Libyan domestic market as well as exports, through the development of two offshore gas fields.
Eni said in a statement that production will start in 2026 and reach a plateau of 750 million cubic feet per day.
“This agreement will enable important investments in the Libyan energy sector, and contribute to local development and job creation while strengthening Eni’s role as a leading operator in the country,” said the company’s CEO, Claudio Descalzi.
Meloni met Libyan Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeiba, head of the internationally recognized Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli for talks that also focused on migration across the Mediterranean.
In a joint press conference with Descalzi, the head of the National Oil Corporation, Farhat Benjdara, said that the duration of the gas deal is 25 years and described it as the most important new investment in the Libyan energy sector in a quarter of a century.
European countries have increasingly sought to replace Russian gas with energy supplies from North Africa and elsewhere over the past year due to the war in Ukraine.
Italy has already taken the lead in getting gas from Algeria, and has forged a new strategic partnership there that includes investment to help state energy company Sonatrach reverse years of declining production.
However, the agreements forged in Tripoli may be undermined by Libya’s internal conflict, which has divided the country between rival factions vying for control of the government and clashing with each other’s claims to political legitimacy.
Underscoring the uncertainty, Bidbiba’s oil minister, Mohamed Aoun, rejected any deal the NOC might strike with Italy, saying in a video on the ministry’s website that such agreements must be reached by the ministry.
Descalzi of Eni said the agreement would also include a carbon capture facility and solar energy.
The head of the NOC, Bandara, was appointed last year by Dabaiba, whose interim government was installed in 2021 through a UN-backed process.
The parliament and the factions based in the east announced early last year that the government was no longer legitimate, and they rejected the appointment of Benjadra and the deals concluded by Tripoli with foreign countries.
The chaos in Libya since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi has left most of the country in the hands of armed factions.
Dabaiba and Meloni said in statements to the press that they also discussed illegal immigration from Libya to Italy, a topic that the right-wing leader in Rome made central to her political campaign during her rise to power.
Dabaiba said Italy would support Libya by providing new search and rescue vessels.
Insecurity and lawlessness have made Libya a major, albeit dangerous, route for migrants seeking to reach Europe, often via Italy. Hundreds of immigrants die each year trying to make the journey.
Meloni was accompanied to Libya by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Biantidossi, who oversees the issue of immigration to Rome, as did Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Werfalli in Libya and Gavin Jones in Rome). Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Enas El-Ashry in Cairo. Writing by Angus MacDowell and Gavin Jones; Editing by Clelia Oziel
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