Further disruptions of Libyan oil supplies to world markets could push crude prices above $130 a barrel in the next month, the country's top oil official told Reuters on Wednesday.
Brent crude rose back close to two-and-a-half year highs on Wednesday as Libya issued its warning and its government forces fought rebels in the oil-rich east.
Brent crude for April was up 49 cents at $115.89 a barrel at 1339 GMT against the recent peak of $119.79 hit on Feb. 24.
Oil markets will be watching closely to see if the departure of oil workers fearful of more violence in Libya will further cut output in the world's 12th largest exporter.
"The oil market is very sensitive. Speculation is very important for the market. When you see that production in an important country went down you are afraid it will go down even more," said Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation.
"If this continues (the price) will go up and up and I won't be surprised if the prices reach as high as $130 (per barrel) or more in the next month."
Ghanem said crude oil output had dropped to 700,000-750,000 barrels per day after the flight of most of the foreign workers who make up about 10 percent of the Libyan energy industry's labor forces, including some in key positions.
Libya was producing 1.6 million bpd before the crisis began.
Asked if Libya would resort to using oil as leverage, or a political weapon if the United States and other Western countries stepped up pressure on Libya over its handling of the violent revolt, Ghanem said he hoped not.
"I hope we are not reaching any stage where we are talking about using this (oil) as a political force. We hope that all things will be solved before we go into any complications of any matters," he said.
"We prefer not to make any kind of disruptions in world supply. Otherwise there will be panic in the oil market."
Ghanem said oil installations had not been damaged and that he hoped oil workers would return. Even if they do, it could take Libya weeks to get output back to normal levels.
Asked if Libya's economy could handle the shock, Ghanem said: "It is not a big problem for us because our oil is still in the bank. It is underground in the country. If we can produce it today well and fine. If we produce it tomorrow well and fine."
Ghanem declined to comment on defections of Libyan diplomats and other officials. But he did say oil industry officials had not departed and that he had no plans to leave.
"You see me. I am in my office. I am still coordinating the industry."
There were no signs that hostilities would ease anytime soon. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Wednesday attacked the oil export terminal of Marsa El-Brega and a nearby town in the rebel-controlled east of the country.
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