LAGOS, Nigeria — Royal Dutch Shell PLC warned Sunday that thieves in Nigeria's oil-rich and restive southern delta are increasingly targeting the company's crude pipelines, including at least three incidents of sabotage this month alone.
In a statement, Shell's Nigerian subsidiary said damaged pipelines near Bonny in Rivers state bore signs of drilled holes and hacksaw cuts. The subsidiary said the damage suggested that thieves – known locally as "bunkerers" – had likely tapped into the lines to siphon off crude oil to sell on the black market.
The subsidiary did not give an estimate of how much crude oil it had lost in the incidents, though it acknowledged the damaged pipelines had leaked crude oil into the environment. The statement said the company put containment booms into the surrounding waterways to stop the oil flow and hired a contractor to begin a cleanup.
"The environmental and social cost of widespread sabotage is simply unacceptable," said Babs Omotowa, Shell's vice president overseeing health and safety issues in Africa.
Shell, which discovered oil in Nigeria 50 years ago in its southern Niger Delta, remains the dominant oil major in the West African nation. Its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria, partners with the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. Oil revenue from Shell and other oil companies operating in Nigeria provides about 80 percent of the country's government funding.
But environmentalists and community activists routinely criticize Shell, blaming the company's aging pipelines and indifferent corporate culture for frequent oil spills. Environmentalists estimate that as much as 550 million gallons (2 billion liters) have poured into the delta since the discovery of oil. That would be at a rate roughly comparable to one Exxon Valdez disaster per year in the delta, a region of swamps, mangroves and creeks almost the size of South Carolina or Portugal.
Upset by the spills and the region's unceasing poverty, militants in the delta have targeted pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company workers and fought government troops since 2006. That violence drastically subsided after a government-sponsored amnesty deal last year, which provided cash payoffs for fighters and the promise of job training.
However, many ex-fighters now complain that the government has failed to fulfill its promises. As next year's presidential election approaches, those 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.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC: http://www.shell.com