* Says battling to protect oil sector from interference
* Working to resolve Wintershall dispute, fix infrastructure
* National production has more than tripled since last year
(Updates MAY 17 story with new NOC comment on return to
By Aidan Lewis
TRIPOLI, May 17 The head of Libya's National Oil
Corporation (NOC) said he was determined to fend off an attempt
by the U.N.-backed government to appropriate energy sector
powers and said settling a dispute with Germany's Wintershall
over a contract was a "top priority".
NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla also told Reuters output from
NOC subsidiary Waha Oil Co could rise by some 80,000 barrels per
day (bpd) in coming weeks and that staff had returned to parts
of the Sirte basin for the first time in more than two years.
National output dipped this week due a power outage
affecting Messla and Sarir oil fields and on Wednesday stood at
683,000 bpd, Sanalla said. But it was expected to return to its
"normal" level of 800,000-820,000 bpd over the next two days.
At about 800,000 bpd, production is more than three times
higher mid-2016 levels but half what OPEC member's output before
a 2011 uprising plunged the North African nation into chaos.
Since 2011, NOC has had to navigate conflict, blockades and
a political split between eastern and western-based factions as
it tries to revive its operations.
NOC pledged to work with the U.N.-backed Government of
National Accord (GNA) when it arrived in Tripoli last year. But
relations soured over NOC budget disputes and after the GNA
issued a decree granting itself powers over energy contracts.
Sanalla said the GNA issued its decree to help Wintershall
, which he said had refused to honour an agreement to
move from an expired concession contract to a production sharing
deal. He said Wintershall owed NOC $1 billion in lost revenue.
The German company said its concessions were still valid and
it was in contact with NOC. "There is no claim over money
allegedly owed by Wintershall," the firm said in a statement.
The GNA, whose authority is challenged particularly by
opponents in the eastern region of Libya, has not commented.
"This Wintershall issue is a disaster from a political point
of view and this shows everybody that the politicians try to
control NOC, try to interfere in the oil sector," Sanalla said.
"I am concerned that they are not going to stop their
attempts to control NOC for their agenda," he said in an
interview in Tripoli, which lies in the west of the country.
Sanalla said GNA had failed to implement its decree and said
he welcomed a ruling by a court in the eastern city of Benghazi
upholding NOC's appeal against the decree.
NOC said in a statement late on Wednesday, after Sanalla
spoke, that it had met Wintershall in March and would welcome
arbitration "at the earliest opportunity."
WINTERSHALL DISPUTE PRIORITY
Sanalla said he would "never permit" the GNA's move and
would defend the NOC from political conflict until there was a
free election in Libya. "We are a state oil company and we
cannot compromise on our rights," he said.
NOC says the Wintershall dispute was blocking production of
150 million standard cubic feet of gas production and 160,000
bpd of oil, including 70,000 bpd from Rimel and Abu Attifel
fields operated by NOC and Italy's ENI.
He said this was hindering efforts to achieved total output
of 1 million bpd.
"Solving this dispute with Wintershall is a top priority for
me," Sanalla said. "Our plan is that hopefully we can pass 1
million (bpd) ... five weeks, six weeks from now."
Sanalla said he had appointed a team to study options for
bringing output from Al-Rimal and Abu Attifel online if the
Wintershall dispute continued.
He said NOC teams had returned to the western Sirte basin
for the first time since March 2015, where infrastructure was
damaged by attacks by Islamic State militants and theft.
He said he hoped production at Waha Oil Co's Gialo field
could restart within a month.
"We work very hard to repair the infrastructure, especially
the pipeline network which was in bad shape due to a long
shutdown," Sanalla said.
(Additional reporting by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt; Editing by