(Removes reference to central province)
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS May 8 Protests over jobs and development
in southern Tunisia have halted production at or shut the fields
of two foreign energy companies in a new challenge to the
country's Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
For Tunisia, a small oil and gas producer compared to its
OPEC neighbours Libya and Algeria with national production is
around 44,000 barrels per day, the protests come at a sensitive
time as Chahed's government tries to enact austerity reforms.
Tunisia's Energy Minister Hela Chikhrouhou told reporters
sit-ins halted production at energy company Perenco's Baguel and
Tarfa fields, which the company website says are joint ventures
for gas and condensate output.
A Perenco spokesman declined to comment.
Perenco operates the El Franig, Baguel, and Tarfa gas
condensate fields with a production of 17 million standard cubic
feet of gas per day, 2 mmscfd of LPG equivalent and 750 bopd of
condensates, according to the company website.
A spokesman for Canada-based Serinus Energy said by email
that its Chouech Essaida field in southern Tunisia had been shut
since Feb. 28 due to labour and social unrest.
Protests have centred on the southern Tataouine province
where Italy's ENI and Austrian firm OMV have
mainly gas operations, but have also begun in Kebili region.
Since its 2011 uprising brought democracy to Tunisia,
successive governments have struggled with social unrest in the
south and central provinces where unemployed youth feel they
have been left out of the economic benefits of the revolution.
In Tatouine region, a group of demonstrators has camped out
for several weeks in the Sahara desert and threatened to
blockade roads used by oil and gas companies unless they see
more jobs and a share in the region's energy riches.
OMV said last week it had moved around 700 non-essential
staff and contractors from its southern Tunisia operations as a
precaution. It said production had not been affected.
ENI said protests had had no impact on its Tunisian
production but it was monitoring the situation.
Chikhrouhou told a conference that total oil production had
fallen to 44,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 100,000 bpd in 2010
because of social unrest, protests and low investment due to a
lack of energy legislation.
Oil revenues fell from 3 billion Tunisian dinars ($1.24
billion) in 2010 to 1 billion Tunisian dinars in 2016, he said.
In the past, Tunisian protesters targeted the state-run
phosphate business, where production falls since 2011 caused
about $2 billion in losses. Output in phosphate - a key source
of foreign income - has risen this year after agreements were
reached with protesters.
The revival of the state-run phosphate production will help
the North African country's economic growth, which also suffered
from a decline in revenues from the tourism sector after major
Islamist militant attacks in 2015.
($1 = 2.4157 Tunisian dinars)
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing
by Edmund Blair and Alexander Smith)