By Padraig O'Hannelly.
The decision by Marathon Oil to stay in Libya, retaining its stake in the Waha Oil Company (WOC), is starting to look a little odd to some people.
If we are to take the reports at face value, Marathon updated the National Oil Corporation (NOC) on the status of the project and on how performance could be improved, and notified the NOC of its desire to sell. The NOC then said it was interested in acquiring the stake, but weeks later the deal is said to be off.
Reading between the lines, there are suspicions that the NOC used its power to block any sale, as the prospect of another high-profile company reducing its presence in the country was not the sort of newsflow it wanted.
At a time when Libya is hoping to sell off some of its concerns to the private sector, the government should be more concerned about the faint whiff of political pressure than about short-term headlines.
To put it simply, an investment that can easily be sold is worth more than one that can't, and the risk of being unable to sell due to political interferene will limit the funds coming from any privatisation; a country that does not allow investors to re-align their interests will be less attractive than one that does.
As yet, we don't don't know the true reasons for the reported change of mind by Marathon Oil, so rumours and speculation fill that void.