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Houston Chronicle: Oil giants to steer clear until Nigeria has a truce

Worker safety must be assured, multinationals say
By TOM ASHBY
Reuters News Service
LAGOS, NIGERIA – Western multinationals have no plans to return staff to abandoned oil fields in Nigeria until there is a truce with militants who have attacked them, industry sources said Wednesday, dousing official expectations of an imminent resumption.
Militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, have waged a four-month campaign of kidnapping and sabotage against the world's eighth-largest oil exporter, which has cut supplies by a quarter.
An output of about 550,000 barrels per day of oil lies idle.
The rebels, who are demanding more local autonomy over the region's oil wealth, the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders and compensation for oil spills, have threatened more attacks.
“The federal government must give us an assurance that the threat no longer exists and we must also hear from the militant side that that is correct,” an oil industry source said, asking not to be named.
“Anything short of that would be taking an uncalculated risk with our staff,” he added, noting that militants engaged troops in a gun battle in the delta on Thursday last week.
Nigerian Minister of State for Petroleum Edmund Daukoru, visiting Algiers, said he expected Royal Dutch Shell to resume production at its abandoned EA oil field in the southern Niger Delta imminently. The company has not confirmed this.
Daukoru said he had received assurances that the oil field would resume pumping 115,000 barrels a day today and that the rest of the halted wells would take 30 days more to return.
A Shell spokeswoman in London said, “We will return to the areas when it is safe to do so, and there's nothing known in terms of timing.”
A spokeswoman for Chevron, which also has production shut because of the crisis, declined to comment.
President Olusegun Obasanjo met delta activists, elders, officials and “youth leaders” — a local term for militants — on Wednesday afternoon, but MEND was not represented.
He set up a committee with a two-week deadline to draw up a detailed action plan for addressing infrastructure, education and employment in the region.
“We are not party to this jamboree. You will get our response to all this talk quite soon,” MEND said in an e-mail.
The government has dismissed the militants as “rascals” and oil thieves, but their demands are shared by many in the region who feel cheated.

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