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Pipeline sabotage on the rise in the Niger Delta

Author : Amy Hollamby

24 September 2010

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has warned that pipeline attacks in southern Nigeria are on the rise. Hundreds of miles of oil pipelines are vulnerable to sabotage.

Pipeline sabotage on the rise in the Niger Delta
Pipeline sabotage on the rise in the Niger Delta

Between the 1st and 12th August this year alone, Shell recorded three separate sabotage incidents on its Cawthorne Channel, Bonny and Alakiri, and Bonny pipelines. The pipelines bore signs of drilled holes and hacksaw cuts. The damage suggests that thieves, known as bunkerers, had tried to pierce the lines to siphon off crude oil for sale on the black market- to illegal refineries, or to vessels waiting offshore.

It is not known how much crude oil has been lost in the incidents, but damaged pipelines have leaked oil into the environment. Shell has put containment booms into the surrounding waterways to stop the oil flowing into the mangrove swamps and hired a contractor to begin a cleanup.
In 2009 Shell believes that 98% of the oil lost was the result of sabotage and that the company had to pay £2.6 million in compensation.
Some environmental groups blame Shell’s aging pipelines and a lack of corporate responsibility for frequent oil spills. Environmentalists estimate that as much as 2 billion litres have poured into the delta since the discovery of oil.

Upset by the spills and the region's incessant poverty, militants in the delta have regularly targeted pipelines, kidnapped oil company workers and fought government troops since 2006. The militants call for Niger Delta residents to get more of the region's oil wealth. That violence drastically subsided after a presidential amnesty in 2009, which provided cash payoffs for fighters and the promise of job training.

However, many militants believe the government did not uphold its side of the bargain, and as the January 2011 national elections approaches, there is a potential for violence in the region to increase. Militants will be available to politicians hoping to intimidate their way into office, or for the oil black marketers the government apparently never won over.

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