PARIS — Libyan oil exports are unlikely to return to their pre-war level before 2013, the new head of the International Energy Agency said on Thursday.
"Our experts think that 2013 or beyond will most probably show the complete full restoration of the Libyan supply to the market, but not before that," Maria van der Hoeven told AFP in an interview.
Libya, a key African oil exporter, produced about 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) before the rebellion against Moamer Kadhafi broke out in mid-February, and then slowed to a trickle.
Around 85 percent of Libyan oil output was exported to Europe, with the disappearance of its high quality light sweet crude from the market one of the reasons why Brent crude from the North Sea has been trading much higher than oil quoted on US exchanges.
Just how quick Libyan oil will return to the market remains one of the key questions of the post-Kadhafi era, not only for European consumers but for Libya's new rulers who badly need oil export revenue to fund reconstruction.
Western oil groups that had been present in Libya, Italy's Eni, France's Total and Spanish Repsol have sent or are preparing to send staff to begin repairing damaged facilities despite the security situation remaining a concern.
"Stabilising the political situation is the first thing that has to be done," said van der Hoeven, who served as the Netherlands' economy minister from 2007 to 2010.
The IEA, the energy monitoring arm of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that unites the world's biggest oil consuming nations, took the unusual step in June of having its members release oil from their strategic reserves amid a surge in the price of crude.
Van der Hoeven called the intervention "efficient" even though oil prices resumed their upward march within days.