Libyan revolt may damage OPEC oil production for years

None of several potential outcomes is benign for Libya’s oil industry — the lifeblood of its economy — or for oil prices. The scenarios run the gamut from all-out civil war and attacks on energy infrastructure to low-level neglect and reservoir damage, as foreign expertise flees the country.

Over decades, from Iran, to Iraq and Venezuela, periods of political chaos in OPEC countries have usually carved lasting scars on the oil sector, and few expect Libya to be any different.

“A period of chaos will probably interrupt Libya’s refining and oil operations,” said Amy Jaffe, an energy studies fellow and Middle East expert at Rice University in Houston. “The military is abandoning Gaddafi, so it’s unclear who is left to protect oil installations. Lots of foreigners are being evacuated, so who will remain in place capable of operating Libya’s oil industry? Will workers even show up?”