Here is the latest in this developing and dramatic story of a confrontation that has wide significance for the onshore oil industry in Nigeria's oil-rich Delta:
Shell Oil Facility Blown Up
Loses N295m per day
By Mike Oduniyi, 02.17.2006
Barely 24 hours after the Joint Military Task Force in the Niger Delta, Operation Restore Hope, bombarded illegal oil bunkerers’ facilities in Okorenkoko, an Ijaw Community in Warri, a Shell Petroleum Develop-ment Company (SPDC) facility in Rivers State went up in flames yesterday, leading to the closure of a flow station with a daily production capacity of 37, 800 barrels.
The huge fire, which will cost the oil company about $2.27 million (N295 million) daily in revenue, forced the closure of a flow station identified as Cawthorne Channel field, said to be close to the ill-fated facility.
Although the SPDC in a statement said it was unsure of the cause of the fire that did extensive damage to the facility, there were speculations that the damage might have been done by militant Ijaw youths in retaliation for Wednesday’s bombardment of bunkerers’ barges in Okorenkoko, a stronghold of the militants.
“A fire incident was reported at a well at SPDC’s Cawthorne Channel field early this morning (yesterday). The cause of the incident is not known and the company’s fire crew and oil spill control as well as technical intervention teams are being mobilised to the site,” Shell said in the statement made available to THISDAY.
Explaining the possible cause of the fire, it said, “an overfly showed some oil leakage, but the fire appeared contained within the wellhead area. A nearby flow station, Cawthorne Channel-1 has been shut down as part of efforts to contain the blaze. This has resulted in a deferment of some 37, 800 bpd,” the company added.
Shell said further that while the fire was extinguished last night, the Cawthorne Channel- 1 flow station would remain shut until the cause of the incident was determined. “We have informed the relevant government agencies of the incident,” it stated.
Following the bombardment of Okorenkoko by the military task force, Okorenkoko community leaders had claimed that the community was the target of the attack, a claim the military rejected as it insisted that the aerial raid was to stamp out the facilities of criminals that were using the community as their base for illegal oil bunkering.
Angered by the military’s action, militant youths had issued threats that the attack would not go without a response from them.
The SPDC was forced to shut down the production of 106,000 bpd of oil last month following a similar attack on its crude oil pipeline in Rivers State. A militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), later claimed responsibility for the attack. The group also masterminded the kidnap of four expatriate oil workers last month.
The Federal Government had approached the militancy of the youths of the Niger Delta with a carrot and stick strategy, warning that it would not hesitate to use force to terminate the circle of violence in the restive oil-rich region.
The Federal Government’s patience with communities suspected to be harbouring the militant youths was, however, stretched beyond its limit on Wednesday as the military task force in the Niger Delta bombarded Okorenkoko, leaving, according to the community’s leaders, about 20 civilians dead and several others injured.
Although the military said the action was targeted at illegal oil bunkerers at the community believed to be a stronghold of Ijaw militant youths, community leaders claimed that about 20 persons died while several others sustained serious injuries.
An Ijaw community leader, Comrade Joseph Evah, later told THISDAY that the hope of resolving the crises in the oil producing region did not lie in the Federal Government’s deployment of troops, but in the immediate implementation of recommendations made by several Ijaw leaders on the even development of the impoverished region.
Evah said as part of efforts to end the crises, stakeholders in the Niger Delta held a meeting in the Bayelsa State capital of Yenagoa last weekend, where solutions to the problems were suggested.
“We have made it known that the youths of the Niger Delta will continue to fight back when provoked by the military. We want the soldiers withdrawn, in their place let the Federal Government set up industries to provide jobs,” he said.