Fears over oil price persist on Libya crisis

 
Steve Dinneen
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OIL prices continued to rise in Asian trading today, pushing Brent crude for April delivery up $1.51 to $113.65 a barrel.

US crude for April delivery gained $1.47 to $99.35 a barrel as fears over escalating violence in Libya continued to drive prices up.

Many of Libya’s major oil production facilities remained off-line or were running at greatly reduced capacity as violent clashes between Gaddafi loyalists and pro-democracy protesters continued.

Prime Minister David Cameron and foreign minister William Hague have both urged Gaddafi to stand down, with the UK imposing sanctions in an attempt to force the despotic leader’s hand.

It is estimated that Libya is now running at less that 50 per cent of its 1.6m barrels per day capacity. Exports have also been hampered by reduced access to shipping ports as fighting blocked transport routes across the country.

Last week rebels claimed to have taken control of several oil facilities, sparking fears production could be reduced even further. Employees at state-owned Agoco said they have joined the revolt against Gaddafi but pledged to keep operations going. It is operating at less than 50 per cent capacity.

Brent crude futures for April delivery closed up 78 cents on Friday, reaching a two and a half year high of $112.14 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate jumped $11.68 in the space of a week to close at $97.88.

Some analysts say Brent could rise as high as $120 if disruption worsens this week. Saudi Arabia has pledged to increase its capacity to fill any shortfall created by the meltdown in Libya. On Friday it raised production by 700,000 barrels, taking its total to over 9m barrels a day.

British military aircraft flew some 150 oil workers out of camps in the Libyan desert yesterday.

Meanwhile, nearly 100,000 people have fled Libya, streaming into neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.

The mass exodus has prompted fears of a growing humanitarian crisis, with the UN calling for international aid. Tunisia’s embattled Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi finally succumbed to calls for him to step down yesterday, making him the latest Middle Eastern leader to fall.