Oil Majors Stall Libya Drilling, Withdraw Staff

European oil and gas companies have evacuated staff and suspended drilling preparations in Libya as violence spreads across the north African country.

Norway's Statoil, Austria's OMV and Royal Dutch Shell have moved some staff as scores of anti-government protesters were killed in the country's second-biggest city, Benghazi, and unrest spread to the capital Tripoli over the weekend.

Production at the Murzaq oil field run by Spain's Repsol has been unaffected so far, as has output from Eni's operations.

But UK oil major BP, which does not produce oil or gas in Libya but has been readying an onshore rig to start drilling for it in the west of the country, has suspended operations because of the escalating violence.

"We are looking at evacuating some people from Libya, so those preparations are being suspended but we haven't started drilling and we are years away from any production," a BP spokesman said, adding BP has about 40 staff in the country.

Royal Dutch Shell, whose operations in Libya are also limited to exploration, has temporarily relocated the dependents of expatriate staff outside the country, a spokesman for the Anglo-Dutch energy giant said, declining to comment further on operations.

Austrian oil and gas group OMV said none of its operations in Libya have been affected but that it was withdrawing expatriate staff.

Statoil, which participates in land-based oil production and exploration activities in the Mabruk field and in the Murzuk basin with Spain's Repsol, has closed its office in Tripoli and "a handful" of its foreign workers are leaving the country, a Statoil spokesman said.

Oil production from the isolated Murzuq oil field in the desert in the south of the country continues as normal, a spokesman for operator Repsol said on Monday.

Al Jazeera television reported on Monday that production from the Arabian Gulf Oil Company Nafoora oilfield had stopped because workers are striking, as violent unrest spread across the country which produces over one million barrels of oil a day.