ROME/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Italian energy company Eni and Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) signed an $8 billion gas production deal on Saturday aimed at boosting energy supplies to Europe despite the insecurity and political chaos in the North African country.
The deal, signed during a visit to Tripoli by Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, aims to increase gas output for the Libyan domestic market as well as exports, through the development of two offshore gas fields.
Output will begin in 2026 and reach a plateau of 750 million cubic feet per day, Eni said in a statement.
"This agreement will enable important investments in Libya's energy sector, contributing to local development and job creation while strengthening Eni's role as a leading operator in the country," said its chief executive, Claudio Descalzi.
Meloni met Libya's Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, head of the internationally recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli for talks that also focused on migration across the Mediterranean.
At a joint news conference with Descalzi, the NOC chief, Farhat Bengdara, said the gas deal had a duration of 25 years and called it the most important new investment in Libya's energy sector for a quarter of a century.
European countries have increasingly sought to replace Russian gas with energy supplies from North Africa and elsewhere over the past year because of the war in Ukraine.
Italy has already taken a lead in sourcing gas from Algeria, building a new strategic partnership there that includes investment to help state energy company Sonatrach reverse years of declining output.
However, agreements struck in Tripoli may be undermined by Libya's internal conflict, which has divided the country between rival factions who vie for control of government and dispute each other's claims to political legitimacy.
Underscoring the uncertainty, Dbeibah's own Oil Minister Mohamed Oun has rejected any deal that NOC might strike with Italy, saying in a video on the ministry website that such agreements should be made by the ministry.
Eni's Descalzi said the agreement will also entail a carbon capture facility and solar power.
NOC chief Bengdara was appointed last year by Dbeibah, whose own interim government was installed in 2021 through a U.N.-backed process.
The eastern-based parliament and factions that support it said early last year that the government was no longer legitimate, rejecting both the appointment of Bengdara and deals that Tripoli has struck with foreign states.
Chaos in Libya since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted autocrat Muammar Gaddafi has left much of the country in the hands of armed factions.
In statements to the press Dbeibah and Meloni said they had also discussed illegal migration from Libya to Italy, a subject that Rome's right-wing leader had made central to her political campaigning during her rise to power.
Italy will support Libya by providing new search and rescue ships, Dbeibah said.
Insecurity and lawlessness has made Libya a major, albeit dangerous, route for migrants seeking to reach Europe, often via Italy. Hundreds of migrants die each year attempting to make the journey.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, who oversees the migration issue for Rome, accompanied Meloni to Libya, as well as Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfali in Libya and Gavin Jones in Rome; additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Enas Alashray in Cairo; writing by Angus McDowall and Gavin Jones; editing by Clelia Oziel)