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africasia.com: Huge Nigerian offshore platform an oasis of calm, far from separatist sabotage

12/02/2008 02:56 OFF THE COAST OF NIGERIA, Feb 12 (AFP)

Safe from separatist sabotage, a mammoth offshore platform hums along with productive activity night and day, an oasis of calm for Nigeria’s embattled oil and gas sector.

Indeed, the country’s offshore facilities have been described by Nigerian officials as the “salvation” of the national oil company.

While it remains the world’s eighth largest oil producer, Nigeria has suffered a sharp decline in land-based output for more than a year in the face of pipeline attacks by militant separatists in the Niger Delta.

The Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell, Nigeria’s largest oil operator, late last week disclosed it would be unable to honour all its contracts from its southern Nigerian Bonny export terminal for the rest of February and March because of sabotage.

The company said “serious security challenges” were preventing it from repairing three pipeline leaks on the Nembe Creek trunk. Industry sources estimated that thousands of barrels of crude will be lost.

Shell accounts for around half of Nigeria’s daily output of 2.6 million barrels at peak production. But unrest in the Niger Delta has slashed output by a quarter since January 2006.

The company last year spent a billion dollars (690 million euros) just to repair sabotaged pipelines.

But the Bonga platform, 120 kilometers (75 miles) off the coast of the Nigerian capital Lagos, operates round the clock in complete tranquility, turning out 225,000 barrels of oil and 150 million cubic feet of gas a day.

Seen from a distance, the facility is a huge red splotch on the horizon, belching out a gigantic burst of fire and a plume of black smoke.

The platform, which equals the height of a 12-storey building and is 305 meters (yards) long, is managed by Shell, which has a 55 percent stake in the project. The other partners are Esso of the United States, 20 percent, Agip of Italy, 12.5 percent and Elf Petroleum Nigeria, 12.5 percent.

Production began in 2005. By May 2007, about 100 million barrels of oil had been exported. The “belly of the beast” is fed by a network of umbilical pipes carrying oil, gas and water from around 40 wells lying at depths of 3,000 to 5,000 meters below the ocean floor.

In the computerised control room, operations are monitored second by second. Roughly two kilometers away is a floating loading station that is connected to the platform and which receives an endless stream of tankers.

Bonga is operated by a crew of 60, who work according to a monthly rotation.

“We’re not a little proud of all this,” said Goodwin Itamah, a Bongo supervisor.

“The majority of the workers on board are Nigerian.”

©2008 AFP

http://www.africasia.com/services/news/newsitem.php?area=africa&item=080212025645.vc0tizsy.php

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