Niger Delta militants attack oil pipeline

Nigerian militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta have claimed an attack on a Shell-operated export pipeline, after halting hostilities last month in order to pursue talks with the government.

The military launched a new offensive in August against militants in the swampy region, which is laced with oil and gas infrastructure that is difficult to protect from attacks. But the shadowy group calling itself the Niger Delta Avengers has said recently that it is open to dialogue with the Muhammadu Buhari-led government.

Formal talks have not yet been held, to the frustration of residents of the impoverished Delta, and may be derailed by Saturday’s attack. Community leaders in the region say it remains unclear whether President Buhari is committed to discussions to resolve the crisis, because he has not made statements to that effect or visited the Delta since taking office.

Attacks this year on oil installations in the southerly region claimed by the Avengers have cut Nigeria’s production to less than 1.4m barrels a day, nearly 40 per cent less than its recent peak. The new militancy has raised fears of a return to the prolonged unrest witnessed in the 2006-09 uprising in the Delta.

The attack cut production at the Bonny 48-inch crude oil export line, the Avengers said in an online statement on Saturday, the authenticity of which was impossible to verify. Shell declined to comment and there was no immediate statement from the Nigerian government.

It comes ahead of the anticipated restart of exports from the Shell-operated Forcados terminal. Loadings there in 2015 averaged 200,000 bpd, but the terminal has been offline since an attack in February, also claimed by the Avengers, on an underwater pipeline.

The Saturday statement said the group would resist action by the government to undermine the ceasefire. When Mr Buhari met US President Barack Obama this week, he suggested that a military push in the Delta was needed, according to three western diplomatic and security sources in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, who were briefed on the meeting.

That message may have reached the Delta militants, leading them to attack again, said one of the sources.

The attack underlines how volatile Nigeria’s production remains as global markets watch it and Libya, the other Opec producer where output has been disrupted in recent months. The Opec producers’ cartel is meeting in Algiers this week for discussions on the oil market, which is suffering its worst downturn in a decade. Long Africa’s top oil producer, Nigeria has been pumping less than Angola for months.

Additional reporting by Anjli Raval in London

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