Rise in theft costs Shell $4.5bn a year in Nigeria

A surge in oil theft in the Niger Delta is costing Royal Dutch Shell up to $4.5bn a year in lost revenues, according to new figures.

Against a backdrop of much resentment against Shell in the region following decades of polluting oil spills, the company estimates that up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day are now being illegally extracted from wellheads and the network of pipes that criss-cross the Niger Delta, as oil hovers around $125 a barrel. This so-called "bunkering" of oil – by local communities as well as organised gangs – equates to 36.5 million barrels a year, worth about $4.5bn at today's prices.

The company says it has noticed a substantial rise in recent months and does not agree with critics who say that at least some of the bunkering is motivated by the need for cash – and in some cases revenge – after so-called operational oil spills caused environmental damage which deprived communities of their fishing and farming livelihoods.

Defenders of Shell say the government and army is turning a blind eye to bunkering and could do more to prevent it.