ABUJA, Nov 15 (Reuters) – Unknown attackers blew up a Nigerian crude oil pipeline on Thursday, extending a month-old resurgence of violence against Africa’s top oil producer and dashing hopes for a government peace drive.
The pipeline attack at Royal Dutch Shell’s (RDSa.L: Quote, Profile, Research) Forcados oil terminal was a setback to the company’s efforts to restore output from the Niger Delta crippled by an earlier wave of militancy in 2006.
It also underlined disaffection by militants with the government’s handling of a peace initiative, which began in May with the inauguration of President Umaru Yar’Adua.
“There was an attack on a pipeline feeding the Forcados terminal,” a Shell spokesman said. Industry sources said dynamite was used and a large volume of oil spilled at the site in the southern state of Delta.
Shell reduced output by between 20,000 and 50,000 barrels per day (bpd) as a result, another industry source said.
The multinational was only just restoring production from the Forcados region after an earlier wave of militant attacks and kidnappings there in Feb. 2006.
Output was about 70,000 bpd before this latest explosion, and had been expected to rise by 160,000 bpd by July next year.
Having begun trading in negative territory, oil futures in New York briefly jumped by about $1 to $94.64 per barrel, but subsided to $93.74 by 1200 GMT, down 35 cents on the day.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but activists said it was carried out in an area under the control of a prominent militia boss, Government Tompolo, who had been involved in peace talks with authorities.
Violence has surged across the oil producing Niger Delta since the arrest in September of Henry Okah, a facional leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
MEND has claimed responsibility for three separate attacks on major oil facilities since Oct. 20, although it denied being responsible for killing 21 Cameroonian soldiers at a border post on Monday.
The Nigerian government on Thursday rejected an accusation by MEND that its troops carried out the Cameroon attack and said relations between the two countries were excellent.
Militant, government and industry sources said MEND was likely behind the killing of the border guards.
MEND has staged a string of attacks and kidnappings on oil facilities since late 2005, forcing thousands of foreign workers to leave and cutting output from Nigeria, the world’s eighth-largest exporter, by a fifth.
The group says it is fighting for access to oil revenues by impoverished local communities in the delta that have been neglected by corrupt Nigerian governments for decades.
Nigeria’s attempts to lure militants to the negotiating table has split them into factions, and activists say rival groups are rearming for a major battle, either between factions or against the federal government.
Jonjon Oyeinfie, a delta activist who is involved in talks with the government, said it had failed to show sincerity in the peace process and this was encouraging a resumption of violence.
“The federal government is not serious about the whole thing. We have been saying this for weeks and now everything is going out of control,” he said. (Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Michael Winfrey/James Jukwey)