Friday, March 6, 2009

Energy Security: Shell pipeline explodes in southern Nigeria

LAGOS (AFP) — An oil pipeline operated by the Royal-Dutch oil giant Shell that feeds into the key export Escravos terminal in southern Nigeria has exploded, curtailing production, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

"A 24-inch trunkline exploded over the weekend," Shell spokesman in Nigeria Tony Okonedo told AFP, refusing to speculate on the causes and extent of the damage.

The pipeline collects crude from various production plants scattered around the region.

"As a precaution, we have stopped production at these facilities," he said without elaborating.

Shell has been a regular target of attacks by militants in southern Nigeria over the past three years, forcing it to shut down some facilities and several times defer contractual obligations to clients.

Last month it declared force majeure on shipments from its main Nigerian terminal, Bonny, due to increased attacks by insurgents on key facilities.

In November, Shell declared force majeure on gas supplies to Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Ltd (NLNG) after closing its Soku gas plant to repair a nearby pipeline damaged by thieves.

In January, militants attacked a loading vessel, a tanker and a tugboat at a crude oil platform operated by Shell in Bonny and took eight crew members hostage.

The last three years have seen an increase in attacks and kidnappings targeting oil companies throughout the Niger Delta.

Some are carried out by militants claiming to be fighting for a larger share of the region's oil and gas wealth for local people, others by criminal gangs out to make money.

One of the main armed groups in the delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), last month called off a four-month-old truce after an army attack.

MEND promised a "hurricane" of attacks in the region in response.

As companies tighten security around expatriate workers, kidnappers have increasingly turned their attention to local staff and their young children and elderly parents.

On Monday Nigeria's oil workers gave notice of a three-day strike later this month, complaining that authorities have failed to prevent a wave of kidnappings in the restive Niger Delta.

The powerful white-collar Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the blue-collar National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) said despite government pledges, the security situation in the southern oil hub has not improved.

The surge in violent attacks on Nigeria's oil industry has meant a drop in crude production in the world's eighth largest producer to some two million barrels a day, compared with 2.6 million in 2006.

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