Following the unrest of past weeks, when should international firms think about returning to do business in Libya?
After all, finding ways and means to continue working in areas other industry sectors would religiously avoid is second nature to upstream oil & gas.
With 3.3% of the world’s proven oil reserves and 2% of its production (at the end of 2009) and more than 50 years of production history, it is certain that UK service companies active in Libya will be keen to get back.
Indeed, Libya’s petroleum prize is of huge interest globally, a fact demonstrated by the politicking behind the UN vote on the no-fly zone, and the abstention from this by permanent security council members Russia and China, and also India – another massive energy consumer.
Indeed, only shortly after the vote, Gaddafi urged the companies of those countries opposed to Nato intervention to invest in the Libyan energy sector.
This is not the time to advocate a full return to operations in Libya; for a start, it is unclear who to do business with. The Gadaffi family, or someone else?
Arab business etiquette, however, does favour face-to-face dealings.
Maintaining relations with those companies your organisation has a history with (provided, of course, they are not on the sanctions list) will stand you in good stead for a return in the future.
But even without physical security concerns, the logistics of travelling to Libya are not insurmountable, but visa issues and transport and accommodation do pose problems in areas controlled by both sides.
As the civil conflict rumbles on, going back is not likely to be a speedy process. With the threat of further sanctions and what appears to be a greater push towards regime change, things aren’t getting much easier.
Libyan production has continued – albeit far from full capacity.
At the time of writing the opposition has indicated that it is looking to increase production in order to purchase weaponry, something that most western companies will not be keen to be associated with, nor something that could be done with ease.
Many facilities have not been maintained, leaving specialist equipment at risk of breakdown without trained personnel to operate and repair it.
What is certain is that the Arab Spring has raised risk awareness among companies operational overseas, highlighting the spectre of risk in business environments that have traditionally been stable and relatively benign.
At this time, planning for the worst and mitigating risk are necessities and financially astute.
Thorough crisis management planning is an evolutionary process that should result in a living document that can and should be continually reviewed to allow for changes. This should be under review now, especially for those contemplating an early return.
Libya has proven that when the crisis hits the proverbial fan, companies can only rely on their own plans and cannot expect to be incorporated into those of others, not even prime contractors or national governments.
My colleague and director of crisis response, John Chase, worked with a number of companies during the evacuation of Libya after their plans (and the lack thereof) fell through.
It became clear during my discussion with him that many things not always apparent to those creating a crisis management plan become very obvious during a crisis – simple things such as the failure to have adequate numbers of personnel trained in desert driving, or having enough US dollars to use when “cash is king”.
Access to fuel and vehicles can be a crucial factor at a time when vehicles are being sold to the highest cash bidder.
Chase also raised the point that too many companies did not have “trigger points” in place. A gauging device used to determine when to evacuate, – whether this be family members, non-essential personnel or all staff – trigger points are unique to each company and are dependent on that company’s risk appetite.
The mitigating of risk is also key to enabling a company to deal competently with a crisis, and starts with the preparation of personnel for their role and area of operation.
Reports from contacts in the post-evacuation period have detailed high levels of stress and anxiety among staff caught up in the Libyan crisis.
Obviously there are measures that can be put in place post-incident, such as counselling, but training should be a matter of course prior to staff deployment, especially since it is proven to foster greater confidence and an ability to deal with a crisis situation rather better.
Lessons have been learned from Libya, but planning for that return must be a key part of the process and needs to start now.
Claire Fleming is AKE’s corporate relations manager and is based in Aberdeen. Join AKE’s John Chase for a Lunch and Learn session at Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce on May 16. The topic is: Crisis Management Planning – Where to start? To book go to