LONDON (Reuters) - Oil infrastructure in rebel-held in east Libya has not been badly damaged, and exports could start within three to four weeks of Muammar Gaddafi's fall, a senior British official said on Friday.
Libya was once a major OPEC oil producer in North Africa, and pumped about 1.6 million barrels per day, or almost two percent of world supply, before an uprising against Gaddafi's autocratic rule in mid-February.
Rebels have prized the east of the country from his grip, and they sold their first tanker full of crude to U.S. refiner Tesoro in April, but production has since ground to a virtual halt due to concerns over the security of the oilfields.
"We don't think the oil infrastructure has been particularly badly damaged physically .... The current estimate is that in the east they can start pumping within three or four weeks," said a British Foreign Office diplomat who declined to be named.
He was responding to a question on the resumption of oil exports from the east, where the bulk of Libya's oilfields lie, should Gaddafi be toppled or step down. Recent comments by rebel leaders make it seem unlikely they would restart exports sooner.
Britain is one of the leading nations in a coalition conducting air strikes against Gaddafi armor and troops under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians, and there are close contacts between British officials and the rebel leadership.
Oil is Libya's main export and the rebels are desperate for cash to sustain an armed uprising that has failed to make to make much headway against Gaddafi loyalists in recent months.
East Libyan crude exports could hit 355,000 bpd in the short term, U.S. bank Goldman Sachs said in a report on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas)