Oil Giants To Continue Investments In Nigeria

Oil giants are likely to continue investing billions of dollars in Nigeria, even though a rash of recent militia attacks and kidnappings could mean violence is on the rise, reports Maimi Herald in the United States.

The past two months have seen militias blow up oil pipelines and launch attacks on two oil platforms run by the country�s main crude producer, Shell.

Four foreign oil workers of Shell were kidnapped and held for nearly three weeks until their release on Monday. It was the second-longest kidnapping during more than a decade of unrest in the Niger Delta, where poor communities complain they get little benefit from the oil riches flowing from their land.

Much of the violence, though, appears less political than criminal. Gangs who tap into pipelines steal tens of thousands of barrels of crude a day. The oil thieves may be getting bolder as their illicit wealth allows them to buy more weapons.

The recent attacks forced Shell to shut down nearly 10 per cent of Nigeria�s 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) output and evacuate over 300 workers.

However, company spokesman, Andy Corrigan, said Shell “expects to continue to be a major player in Nigeria in the years to come�.

Rights campaigner, Demieari Von Kemedi, in Port Harcourt alleged that top power brokers and security forces collaborate with the oil thieves.

Although Abuja has denied allegations of collaboration, two top Navy officials were court-martialed last year for involvement in oil theft.

Another reason for the recent upsurge in attacks may be reaction to renewed government determination to quell unrest and stop hostage taking.

But two governors in the delta region, James Ibori of Delta State and Goodluck Jonathan of Bayelsa State said hostage taking is alien to the people.

Ibori spoke while receiving in audience Shell�s General Manager, West, Cor Zegelaar at Government House in Asaba.

In Yenagoa, Jonathan told reporters that attacking the kidnappers hide-out in the Niger Delta creeks will aggravate rather than solve the problem of hostage taking.

Nonetheless, President Olusegun Obasanjo has declared that “stability will be returned to the oil region�.

The arrest last September on treason charges of Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), marked the start of a new crackdown on breakaway groups.

Dokubo�s campaign for independence for the over eight million Ijaw that dominate the Niger Delta is fueled in part by complaints that the region sees too little benefit from oil.

Another prominent Ijaw, impeached Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, fled money laundering charges in Britain last November before being charged in Nigeria.

He is a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but had increasingly found himself at odds with the President over demands that the Ijaw get a greater share of oil revenues.

Unrest in Nigeria, together with worries over the nuclear standoff in Iran, have been pressuring world oil prices upward.

At a time of high prices and diminishing reserves, Nigerian oil blocks remain attractive, said Antony Goldman, Africa analyst at London-based oil consultancy, Clearwater Research.

“Nigeria, for all its difficulties, offers quite a bit�, Goldman said, citing the country’s expanding oil production capacity and the rapid growth of the natural gas industry.

Nigeria has the world’s seventh-largest proven reserves of natural gas. It is the fifth-largest provider of crude to the U.S.

The major investments now are in deep offshore fields, considered much safer than the onshore facilities currently accounting for the bulk of Nigeria’s oil. The newer projects are much farther from the coast and harder for militants to reach.

Multi-billion-dollar investments by Shell and ExxonMobil and others are likely to raise oil exports from just under 2.5 million bpd now to over three million before 2007, security conditions permitting, Goldman said.

The government aims to increase production to four million bpd by 2010.

Non-traditional partners, including China and India, have been striking huge deals in Nigeria’s petroleum sector. Earlier this month, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation announced a $2.27 billion acquisition of a share in an oil block.

Chronic poverty and oil pollution have stoked the Delta’s regular violence over the past decade. Peaceful dialogue took a blow in 1995 when writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists from his Ogoni tribe were executed under the regime of the late dictator, Sani Abacha.

Abel Oshevire, Spokesman for the Delta State Government, says local authorities are trying to find a permanent solution by tackling key issues such as poverty and education.

But Asaba needs to be given control of oil resources, and to have much more money, he said.

Critics say with 13 per cent of oil revenues flowing back to them, oil-producing states have plenty of money, but get misappropriated.

Meanwhile, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) kicked off its 139th extraordinary meeting on Tuesday in Vienna, Austria, with a resolve to leave untouched till the second quarter of the year, its current crude oil production output at about 28 million bpd.

But that did not affect Nigeria�s decision to push ahead with its aspiration to raise production to four million bpd and 40 billion reserves by 2010.

The country served notice at the meeting that it is serious about realising the aspiration by first increasing production by an additional 600,000 bpd by the middle of the year.

Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and newly inaugurated OPEC President, Edmund Daukoru, told journalists at the end of the cartels’s ministerial council meeting that the additional production will bring the country�s total output to over three million bpd.

Much of this is expected from deep offshore oil concessions, which, according to Daukoru, have already shown tremendous potential, with ramp up from Bonga oil field, Nigeria�s largest deep offshore water field operated by Shell, faster than anticipated.

Erha field development by ExxonMobil is on schedule for first oil before the middle of the year.

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