An oil well owned by the energy giant Shell caught fire in the Niger Delta on today, one day after separatist militants threatened revenge against the firm for supporting a government air strike.
Fire-fighters were battling the blaze on a well head in the Cawthorne Channel, part of the New Calabar river 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of the oil city of Port Harcourt, a statement from the Anglo-Dutch oil giant said.
“The cause of the incident is not known and the company’s fire crew and oil spill control as well as technical intervention teams are being mobilised to the site,” Shell’s public affairs manager Don Boham said.
While the fire continues a nearby plant, the Cawthorn Channel-1 flow station, is shut, cutting production equivalent to 37,800 barrels per day.
Shell was forced to close down four of its Niger Delta flow stations last month, following violent guerrilla attacks, and was already losing 106,000 barrels per day in production before the Thursday’s fire.
“We have informed the relevant government agencies. The cause of the fire, volume of oil spilled and the effects are being investigated,” Boham said.
While it is not yet clear whether the blaze was the result of sabotage or an accident, it came after several ethnic Ijaw separatist groups threatened to resume a violent campaign against Shell and the Nigerian government.
On Wednesday a Nigerian military helicopter gunship strafed barges belonging to oil smugglers in the delta. Militants accused Shell of allowing the army to use the firm’s Warri airstrip as a base for the strike and threatened revenge.
The company would not confirm or deny the airfield had been used, but witnesses at the airport confirmed that the chopper was operating there.