Oil Prices’ Decline Deepens as a Seemingly Ungovernable Country’s Output Rises


Oil production facilities in the industrial zone of the oil port of Ras Lanuf, Libya, in January.

Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters

HOUSTON — The price of oil keeps sinking, and there is no shortage of reasons. American oil companies are producing too much petroleum. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has not cut production enough. Motorists around the globe are not driving enough to shrink crude and gasoline inventories as quickly as expected.

But the biggest wild card in the equation — one that could tip prices at the pump from one day to the next — is oil-rich Libya, among the most unstable countries in North Africa. Contrary to the predictions of almost all experts, Libya’s production has climbed a wall of crisis in recent months to 885,000 barrels a day last week, roughly triple its production of only a year ago.

Oil Prices: What to Make of the Volatility

Over the last two and a half years, the oil industry experienced its deepest downturn since at least the 1990s.

The unexpected production in Libya has added to the downward pressure on prices, which reached a 52-week low on Tuesday in the United States. West Texas intermediate crude ended the day at $43.23, a decline of 2.2 percent.

Libya’s success in the oil fields has been wildly improbable at a time when the country is hopelessly divided between two competing governments and several hostile tribal and regional militias. Deals are made from week to week between oil officials and tribal groups seeking leverage in the southern desert just to keep pipelines open.

But the seemingly ungovernable country has already undermined OPEC’s efforts to cut production, and now Libyan oil executives are projecting that their…

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