Nigeria pipeline attack forces Shell to cut output

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Royal Dutch Shell says it has shut down three pumping stations in Nigeria’s Niger Delta after a key crude oil pipeline was sabotaged. Although there has been no claim of responsibility, the attack occurred a day after Nigeria’s main militant group MEND called off a three-month-old ceasefire and threatened to unleash “an all-out assault” on Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry.

A spokesman for MEND (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) has not yet to responded to e-mails for comment. Shell said the Trans Ramos Pipeline, located in Nigeria’s southern Bayelsa state, was sabotaged on Saturday causing some oil to spill into the creeks of the Niger Delta.
“The leak, confirmed to have been caused by sabotage, has stopped with the shutdown of three flow stations yesterday,” said a company spokeswoman in Nigeria. “We are continuing to recover spilled oil, and deploying additional booms to contain the spread of the crude.” It was not clear how much oil production had been shut down.

Attacks by militants and disgruntled local community members on Nigeria’s oil sector in the past few years have prevented the OPEC member from producing much above two-thirds of its capacity, costing it about $1 billion a month in lost revenues. Nigeria’s light crude is popular with U.S. and European refiners as it is easily processed into fuel products and previous oil attacks have helped lift global oil prices.

The Trans Ramos Pipeline has been vulnerable to militant attacks in the past. In June, MEND sabotaged the same pipeline which connects to the Tunu, Opukusu and Ugbotubu pumping stations and feeds crude oil to the Shell-operated Forcados export terminal. Since then, violence has subsided in the Niger Delta following President Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme last year, which led to thousands of militants surrendering their weapons in exchange for clemency, a monthly stipend, education and job opportunities.

MEND has been severely weakened by the departure of field commanders who accepted the amnesty, but oil infrastructure is extremely exposed and it takes little to launch an attack. Many oil facilities have remained idle for years because of the insecurity, preventing Nigeria from pumping anywhere near its 3 million barrel per day capacity. Shell said on Friday it had agreed to sell its stake in three onshore oil mining leases, whose fields have not been producing since late 2008.



Pic: Nigerian police on guard