* Libya picks four top trading houses to buy oil in 2012
* Glencore wins 36 cargoes for next year
* Europe’s refiners still given priority
By Jessica Donati and Emma Farge
LONDON, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Libya has agreed to supply oil to four major European trading houses in 2012, a senior National Oil Corporation (NOC) source said, amounting to at least 9 percent of its crude exports, in a break from a policy of restricting sales to refiners.
Glencore and Swiss-based trading giants Vitol, Gunvor and Trafigura together will receive around 70 cargoes, the NOC source said on Wednesday, as Libya expands its pool of customers.
This allocation amounts to around 9 percent of Libya’s full pre-war exports of 1.3 million barrels per day, according to Reuters calculations.
Glencore won 36 cargoes for next year, while Swiss-based trading giants Vitol, Gunvor and Trafigura got contracts worth approximately 18 cargoes, 12 cargoes and four cargoes, respectively, the NOC source said.
Libya’s state oil company has typically limited sales of its mostly light, sweet crude oil to refiners, most of them in Europe, and has said it plans to continue to prioritise its usual customers in 2012.
“We made some exceptions for the benefit of the NOC, but not a big quantity,” the NOC source said, adding the lion’s share of Libya’s crude oil would be exported to refiners. It will also award some cargoes to the country’s own trader, Oil Libya.
A senior NOC source told Reuters last month that trading houses would likely be awarded some volumes, calling them a “necessary evil”.
Libya’s oil output has hit 1 million barrels per day, its oil minister said after an OPEC meeting last week, in a further sign that its recovery has been more rapid than expected following an eight-month long conflict.
Despite the inclusion of trading houses, some traders expressed surprise that they did not receive a bigger volume in 2012, given their role in providing fuel to rebels during the revolution.
Most oil majors and European refiners stopped trading with Libya during the revolution due to concerns about sanctions.
“I’m surprised they (Vitol) are not getting more as they were seen as bosom buddies during the revolution,” said an oil trader whose firm received Libyan crude allocations.
The exact share awarded to Europe’s leading oil refiners varied, the NOC source said, but volumes were close to five to six cargoes of crude per month.
Oil traders said that Italy’s Saras was one of the biggest winners, picking up four different grades of crude oil. The NOC said last week that Repsol, Total, BP and Eni were among the 10 companies that will receive priority access to oil.
Libya also plans to sell similar volumes to Chinese refiners, awarding a “good share” to Unipec, the trading arm of China’s refining giant Sinopec, and to refiner Petrochina , the NOC source said.
The NOC had also decided to reduce the supply of crude oil allocated to Star Energy to 10 cargoes per year, the source added.
Before the war Libya pumped around 1.6 million barrels per day, and most of the roughly 1.3 million bpd of exports went to European clients.
As a result of its limited refining capacity, however, the OPEC producer relies on imports for close to two-thirds of its gasoline needs. Libya recently awarded a tender to purchase up to 3 million tonnes of gasoline in 2012 to a pool of refiners led by Russia’s LUKOIL and Italy’s Saras.