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Associated Press: Nigerian Group Wants Shell Pipeline Shut

By HEIDI VOGT 07.17.07, 2:05 PM ET 
LAGOS, Nigeria – A Nigerian activist group called Tuesday for the closure of a major Shell oil pipeline, saying the company has not done enough to try to extinguish fires that have been burning on the line for weeks – polluting farmland and endangering residents.

The oil industry in Nigeria – Africa’s largest producer of crude – is plagued by militant groups that regularly kidnap workers and gangs that tap into pipelines to steal oil. Fires often erupt on oil pipelines that have been drilled by vandals.

The activist group – called The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People – said fires have been burning since June on five different sections of the line, one of them fewer than 100 meters (330 feet) from an elementary school.

Shell confirmed that six fires are burning on the Trans Niger pipeline, but said the company has been blocked from putting them out by community members who have denied them access.

“We are deeply concerned about the effect on the environment and people and we are ready to fight the fires once we are given access by the community,” Shell spokesman Precious Okolobo said.

He said Shell had only been allowed access to two of the sites, and was being blocked in other places by residents who were demanding money or settlement of other issues before letting the company in.

Bari-Ara Kpalap, a spokesman for the activist group, said these charges were false, though she did say that Shell may have been slow to act because of fear that angry residents would attack its workers.

Poor residents in Nigeria’s oil-rich river delta have long complained that they have been ignored by the multinational oil companies.

“The oil company Shell that owns the Trans Niger pipeline appears not to have the capacity to manage the situation,” Kpalap said of the fires. The group called for an immediate closure of the line and a government investigation into Shell’s management of its pipelines.

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