Cablegate: Shokri Ghanem Outlines Plans for Libya's National Oil Corporation
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SUBJECT: SHOKRI GHANEM OUTLINES PLANS FOR LIBYA'S NATIONAL OIL CORPORATION REF: 09 TRIPOLI 862 TRIPOLI 00000116 001.2 OF 003 CLASSIFIED BY: Gene Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, U.S. Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: In a February 8 meeting with the Ambassador, the head of Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC), Shokri Ghanem, expressed support for improved Libya-U.S. relations, welcomed the upcoming U.S. Trade Mission, and explained his near-term goals for the NOC, which include plans for increasing oil and gas exploration and production, developing a cadre of Libyan experts to replace the expatriate workforce, and converting all concessions to Exploration and Production Sharing Agreements (EPSA's). While it appears that after his brief hiatus, Ghanem is firmly back at the helm of the NOC, the rumors circulating around Tripoli are that he is disengaged and not closely involved in the running of the organization. End summary.
A "FUNCTIONAL APPROACH" TO U.S.-LIBYAN RELATIONS
2. (C) In a February 8 meeting with the Ambassador and Econoff, NOC Chairman Shokri Ghanem welcomed the U.S. Trade Mission (February 20-23), saying that "most, if not all people in Libya" wanted closer relations with the United States. However, he said "politics is getting complicated all over the world." He advocated for a "functional approach" that would focus on "where we agree, not on where we disagree." Ghanem understood that America was "nervous" about terrorism, especially as terrorists continue to come up with new ways of attacking the U.S. (citing the Christmas Day airliner attempted bombing), but in his view, national security policies needed to examine the root causes of terrorism rather than simply focusing on someone's appearance or nationality. He lamented that international travel has become so difficult nowadays, and at times even "degrading" due to extensive security precautions.
PRICE FLUCTUATIONS: THE NEED FOR A LONG-TERM VIEW
3. (C) According to Ghanem, the recent fluctuations in the price of oil have affected the NOC's investment plans, as well as government spending plans overall. He advocated for a more prudent approach that would include taking a long-term view of oil revenue and government spending. Ghanem rebuked Libyan officials who tended to spend a lot of government funds when oil prices are high, rather than spreading out expenditures more evenly. He said Libya was committed to adhering to OPEC production quotas and thus even though Libya's current capacity is 2 million barrels per day (b/d), it is only producing 1.5 to 1.6 million b/d, as stipulated by OPEC.
SEARCHING FOR THE MOST ECONOMICAL EXPATRIATE WORK-FORCE
4. (C) The Ambassador raised the issue of expatriates assigned by foreign firms to their Libyan partner companies (NOC-owned) in order to share their expertise. (Note: Several American companies have expressed concern about this issue. Their agreements with the NOC called for the NOC to fund the costs of expatriate experts who would be "seconded" to the NOC partner company but few placements have been approved thus far, presumably due to the costs involved. End note). Ghanem said he did not have a problem with foreign companies wanting to bring in their own people, who know the company philosophy and approach, to act as senior managers or to sit on joint management committees. But for more technical positions, as well as administrative jobs, he said Libyans should be hired whenever possible. He said that 76 percent of the positions in the oil and gas industry in Libya were occupied by "foreigners." Many of these positions included directors of training or transportation, jobs that Libyans could do, in his view. He conceded that expatriates were needed for other jobs that required experience with new technologies, such as Enhanced Oil Recovery (using CO2 gas injection) or in exploration. Another concern was the cost of expatriate staff. He said if NOC companies could hire an engineer from India or Brazil for 10,000 USD, they would do so. If the American partners insisted on hiring American engineers (costing 100,000 USD), the Americans could pay the difference.
5. (C) Regarding a water fee imposed on production companies, the Ambassador asked if this was a breach of contract since the IOCs' agreements include free access to water. He added that TRIPOLI 00000116 002.2 OF 003 companies were also concerned because the water fees could not be counted as operating costs, which could be deducted from tax payments. (Note: Reportedly, most IOCs have expressed concern to the NOC over the new requirement that companies must pay for water used in operations for re-injection into the reservoirs; there is a sliding scale according to how brackish the water is, meaning that the freshest water will cost more. According to some IOCs, the new fee is a breach of contract since free access to water is included in the agreements. End note). Ghanem said the water fee was not a breach of contract as regulations regarding the use of fresh water is included in Libya's Petroleum Law. He seemed to intimate that the IOCs were using too much fresh water, which was needed for other uses such as consumption and irrigation. According to Ghanem, some IOCs, such as Spanish Repsol, have paid the water fee (but according to Embassy sources, no foreign companies have paid. One GM reported that the NOC-owned partner companies of some IOCs have paid their water bill, and are expecting the foreign partner to reimburse them).
PLANS FOR GAS
6. (C) In a recent press article, Ghanem said Libya would be investing in new gas projects. When the Ambassador asked whether a gas pricing policy had been set, he commented that gas pricing was "very complicated" since in the past, gas was flared, and there was no price. Now, gas for local consumption is subsidized, something that Ghanem was against. He said under the EPSA IV agreements, the price of gas was the international price minus 15 percent of that price.
CONVERTING CONCESSIONS TO EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION SHARING AGREEMENTS: A LONG-TERM GOAL
7. (C) As to whether all agreements with IOCs will be converted to EPSA's, Ghanem stated, "Rest assured, the NOC will honor its agreements," but that in the long-run, they would move everyone to the EPSA system. The NOC's only existing contracts outside of EPSA are with Germany's Wintershall, and the U.S. firms included in the Waha Group (Hess, Marathon, ConocoPhillips). According to Ghanem, in any case, Wintershall said it planned to leave Libya in 2016 when its current concession agreement ends. In his view, once all the companies are under EPSA's, it will be more efficient for the NOC to manage accounting and to monitor their contracts. They have invested in training their accountants and others in the EPSA system in order to simplify their operations, similar to an "assembly line" in a factory. As for the Waha Group, he noted the U.S. firms had been absent from Libya for about 15 years, but that now that they were back, he would continue to discuss converting to an EPSA-type agreement, adding there was "more than one way to skin a cat."
WILL THE LIBYAN NOC BECOME AN INTERNATIONAL COMPANY?
8. (C) When asked if Libya still planned to convert the NOC to an international company (IOC), he noted that this was still a long-term goal but that it would be difficult to move the NOC "outside of the bureaucracy" given that Libya's economy is dependent on the oil and gas sector. He said he would like the NOC to eventually become a joint stock company that would pay taxes to the government, like the Waha Group. He opined that this would enable the NOC to raise its salaries to a more competitive level. He noted he had already removed the NOC workforce from the government's civil service employment system, which allowed the NOC more control over its salaries and gave it more power to hire and fire staff.
VERENEX: MEDCO WILL BE THE OPERATOR
9. (C) Regarding the recent sale of Canadian-owned oil exploration company Verenex, Ghanem said the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) had purchased the company and that Medco, Verenex' Indonesian partner, would be the operator. He intimated that the NOC would have exercised its rights to purchase Verenex, (for the same sales price as offered by the Chinese National Petroleum Company) and thus would have honored the agreement with Verenex. However, the GOL's dragging out of the approval of the sale had forced the Verenex share price to decrease by about 30 percent, which in the end, paved the way TRIPOLI 00000116 003.2 OF 003 for the LIA's discounted purchase.
10. (C) Bio Note and Comment: During the meeting, Ghanem counted Islamic prayer beads, yet appeared relaxed, candidly answering the Ambassador's questions. Ghanem attributed his October 2009 hiatus from the NOC to his desire to "catch up on movies, read books, and rest." He voiced a commitment to honoring all of the NOC's current contracts, but said he would continue to pursue the goal of converting all IOC contracts to EPSA's. While it appears that after his brief hiatus, Ghanem is firmly back at the helm of the NOC, the rumors circulating around Tripoli are that he is disengaged and not closely involved in the running of the organization, but rather his deputy, Ali Sgheir,is truly in charge, and taking direction from the top leadership of Libya. Ghanem reportedly returned to the NOC at Saif al-Islam's strong urging, and he may be waiting to see how Saif's future unfolds before making any more personal career decisions. End comment. CRETZ