Nigerian militants threaten proposed Trans-Sahara gas line

Nigeria’s militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), reiterating its long-standing demands that international oil companies leave the oil-producing Niger Delta, has threatened to attack the planned Trans-Saharan gas pipeline project.

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, July 7 -- Nigeria’s militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), reiterating its long-standing demands that international oil companies leave the oil-producing Niger Delta, has threatened to attack the planned Trans-Saharan gas pipeline project.

MEND “warns the investors to the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (TSGP) project that unless the Niger Delta root issues have been addressed and resolved, any money put into the project will go down the drain,” according to a MEND spokesman.

“We will ensure that it [the TSGP] faces the same fate other pipelines are facing today,” the spokesman said. He also warned “Agip, Total, Shell, and ExxonMobil to leave while there is still time because within the next 72 hr” the group may launch new attacks.

The MEND warnings came just days after Algeria, Niger, and Nigeria signed an agreement to start the process of constructing the $10 billion TSGP, which aims to transport as much as 30 billion cu m/year of gas to Europe.

The warnings also follow a decision announced last week by Russia’s OAO Gazprom of plans to invest in the TGSP through a 50-50 joint venture, called Nigaz, with state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.

Gazprom said Nigaz intends to explore for gas and to develop infrastructure for its development and transport—even including a section of pipeline that could form part of a proposed Trans-Sahara pipeline to export gas directly to Europe (OGJ Online, June 30, 2009).

While no date has yet been given for the start of work on the TSGP, which is expected to extend 4,000 km from Africa to Europe, the line’s first shipment of gas is scheduled for delivery in 2015.

Threats played down
Nigerian military forces played down MEND’s threats, saying that the group is not capable of carrying them out. According to military spokesman Col. Rob Abubakr, Nigerian security forces would be able to protect all oil and gas installations, as well as the sector’s workers and staff.

But such reassurances may not be enough for international oil companies, especially since MEND-led sabotage operations—as well as kidnappings of oil company employees—has led to a significant drop in Nigeria’s oil production, which has fallen to 1.8 million b/d this year from 2.6 million b/d in 2008.

Underlining their determination to drive away IOC’s, MEND militants July 5 claimed responsibility for bombing Chevron Nigeria Ltd.-owned Okan manifold, which controls most of the company's offshore oil to its loading platform in Delta State.

“The strategic Okan manifold which controls about 80% of Chevron Nigeria Ltd. offshore crude oil to its BOP Crude Loading Platform was blown up at about [8:45 p.m. on July 5],” the militant group said in a statement.

A Chevron spokesman, who said an investigation had already begun, said the firm would make no comment on the rebel claims.

In addition to that bombing, the rebels also claimed to have seized the chemical tanker, Sichem Peace, in Delta State waters for ignoring a warning to industry tankers to stay away from the Niger Delta.

"Their arrest is meant to serve as a warning to others that there are root issues that have to be resolved with the Nigerian government before normalcy can resume," MEND said.

MEND also claimed it attacked a facility operated by Royal Dutch Shell PLC on July 4. "We lashed out at the Shell well head 20, located at Cawthorne Channel 1 today at about [3 a.m.], the facility connects to the Bonny loading terminal in Rivers State," the group said.

A spokesman with Shell in Nigeria said the firm is investigating reports of an incident on part of their operations, but had no immediate comment on the claims by the rebel group.

The MEND attacks are a clear rejection of recent efforts by the Nigerian government to secure peace in the Niger Delta. On June 25, President Umaru Yar'Adua offered amnesty to any rebel in the Niger Delta who lays down his arms, beginning on Aug. 6.

The amnesty offer followed bombings by MEND which were confirmed by IOC’s operating in the country.

On June 19, Eni SPA reported a loss of 33,000 b/d of crude production and 2 million cu m/day of gas due to an attack on its pipeline in the Bayelsa State.

On June 18, Shell confirmed that it had halted the 100,000 b/d Trans-Ramos pipeline in Bayelsa State, following an attack carried out by MEND on June 17.

According to analyst BMI, militant groups such as MEND want a greater share of oil revenues to filter down into the region, which remains impoverished despite its hydrocarbon wealth.

“With little indication that the Nigerian government is successfully engaging with disenfranchised communities over grievances, the longer-term risk outlook also remains bleak,” BMI said, adding, “Endemic poverty remains the main social factor destabilizing the Niger Delta.”

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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