Nigeria militants 'attack Agip oil pipeline'

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The Independent Online

Nigeria's main militant group said today it had attacked an oil pipeline operated by Italian energy firm Agip, widening a campaign which has so far targeted Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell.

"A major pipeline which delivers crude oil to the Brass export terminal was blown up at the Nembe creek in Bayelsa state this morning," the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said in a statement emailed to media.

There was no immediate confirmation from the military or from Agip.

MEND, which said its fighters had clashed with a military gunboat during the attack, has threatened to widen its campaign to offshore facilities in Africa's biggest oil exporter.

Security sources said some personnel were being evacuated from offshore installations as a precautionary measure.

MEND launched its latest campaign of sabotage after the military last month carried out its biggest offensive against armed gangs in the western Niger Delta for at least a decade.

The militants' initial attacks were in Delta state where the military offensive took place, but Friday's attack is the second in neighbouring Bayelsa state following a similar strike on Shell late on Wednesday.

Shell said yesterday that some oil production had been halted following the attack on the Trans Ramos pipeline at Aghoro-2 community in Bayelsa.

US energy firm Chevron shut down its operations around Delta state after MEND's first pipeline attack in its latest campaign on May 24, halting around 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of output.

The military offensive in Delta state last month focused on "Camp 5" and the community of Oporoza, the base and home respectively of Government Tompolo, a militant accused by the military of profiting from a lucrative trade in stolen oil.

Industry sources say it is virtually impossible to fully protect hundreds of miles of pipeline running through remote swamplands from guerrilla-style attacks and they expect such strikes to continue in the coming weeks.

Nigeria's installed crude oil production capacity is around 3 million bpd but continued insecurity, combined with funding problems at state oil firm NNPC, have meant Nigeria is far from realising its full output potential.

Junior Finance Minister Remi Babalola said last week that Nigeria was pumping around 1.7 million bpd, although trade sources have said they expect oil exports to average 1.83 million bpd in June.

The discrepancy is partly due to differences in which production streams are classified as condensate.