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Shell: Pipelines ablaze, threatening Nigerian oil flow

Sabotaged oil pipelines were ablaze in Nigeria's southeastern Ogoniland...

August 17, 2001

Sabotaged oil pipelines were ablaze in Nigeria's southeastern Ogoniland, the oil company, Shell, said Friday, warning that vandalism threatens the flow of some 200,000 barrels of oil a day.

The fires on sections of abandoned pipeline in the Ogoniland districts of Bomu and Bodo, southeast of Port Harcourt, were believed to have resulted from tampering by vandals who dig up the old pipes and resell them, said Precious Omoku, spokesman for Shell's joint venture with the Nigerian government.

A recent visual inspection by Shell officials in a helicopter flying over the area showed the pipes had been extensively excavated by organized groups of saboteurs who use heavy vehicles to cart the pipes away, Omoku said.

If the saboteurs tamper with major pipeline arteries passing through Ogoniland, Shell could be forced to shut down 200,000 barrels a day, Omoku said. It is big business _ very organized.

Omoku said several of the fires were still going, but he could not say exactly how many. Shell crews could not safely enter the region without the consent of local activists, he added.

It was also unclear what touched off the fires, although similar infernos in the past have been blamed on vandals' cigarettes and sparks from their tools. Vandals have also been known to sabotage full pipelines to scoop up the fuel to sell. But the process is hazardous, and several explosions in recent years have killed hundreds of people.

Associated Press reporters recently witnessed a pipeline fire near the Ogoniland village of Kaani-Ban, which villagers said had been burning since June as a result of a pipeline leakage.

Chris Newsom, a London spokesman for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoniland, or MOSOP, confirmed that one pipeline in Ogoniland was still burning, but said Shell had not tried to put it out despite pleas from local communities.

Shell has abandoned drilling and oil-retrieval activities in Ogoniland since 1993 following a violent dispute with MOSOP and other activists. However a number of Shell pipelines from wells elsewhere in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta still pass through Ogoniland. Abandoned wells also pose a hazard, company officials admit: one near the village of Yorla erupted in May, spraying oil over trees and farmland several hundred meters (yards) away.

Oil company employees and installations in the Delta are frequently attacked by activists and gangs of thugs demanding compensation for land use and environmental damage caused by the drilling. Despite its mineral wealth, most residents of the Delta remain desperately poor.

Shell's joint venture with Nigeria's government and other oil companies accounts for more than half of the country's total oil production, worth more than dlrs 20 billion last year.

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