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Shell shuts oilfield after gun attack

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Shell shuts oilfield after gun attack

By Matthew Green in Lagos

Published: June 20 2008 03:00 | Last updated: June 20 2008 03:00

Gunmen in powerboats sped across more than 100km of open sea to attack a giant oil production vessel off Nigeria yesterday, forcing Royal Dutch Shell to shut down one of Africa’s biggest oilfields.

The night raid on the Bonga facility shattered the aura of invulnerability surrounding deepwater projects. Western oil companies had hoped the projects would be immune to the violence plaguing operations in the creeks of the Niger Delta.

Workers on Bonga retreated behind a fortified blast wall while militants attempted to find a way into a control room housing banks of computers used to stabilise the highly volatile cargo of oil and natural gas.

“Our detonation engineers could not gain access to blow it up but decided against smoking out the occupants by burning down the facility to avoid loss of life,” said a statement from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the militant group that claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mend threatened to launch further assaults on Bonga, or the oil tankers that use it, and ordered energy companies to evacuate all expatriate staff from Nigeria until grievances fuelling the conflict in the delta were addressed.

Shell said it had shut down production at Bonga – which had been pumping some 200,000 barrels a day, almost 10 per cent of Nigeria’s daily output – while they assessed what damage, if any, had been done to the facility, one of the largest in the world.

Supply fears over Nigeria have spurred the rally in oil prices to record highs. The attack sent shockwaves through the Nigerian oil sector, Africa’s biggest, where raids on pipelines in the past few months and government demands for back taxes and revenues have already created uncertainty.

“This is supposed to be the most difficult oil facility to attack,” Tam Brisibe, chairman of an oil committee in Nigeria’s national assembly, told the Financial Times. “If we cannot protect the Bonga then every other oil facility is vulnerable.”

Towering 12 storeys above the Gulf of Guinea, Bonga presents a formidable target for militants in speedboats, although it appeared to have no naval protection when it was visited recently by the FT. Experts said the raid could complicate plans by other majors to bring similar production facilities on-stream, seen as the best hope of reversing a decline in Nigeria’s oil production during the past two years.

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