Chevron Pipeline in Nigeria Attacked by Gunmen

Unknown gunmen attacked a Chevron Corp. crude oil pipeline running through Nigeria’s restive Niger Delta, a new sign of violence in a region supposedly brought under control by a government-led amnesty program, officials said Saturday.

The attack occurred Friday at a pipeline that transports crude oil out of Chevron’s seven swamp fields in the area, which produced 77,000 barrels of oil per day in 2008. Chevron spokesman Scott Walker said workers stopped the pipeline flow, holding back about 20,000 barrels.

Walker declined to comment on whether oil was released into the environment after the breach or when the pipeline would be in operation again, saying the matter remained under investigation.

Chevron Nigeria Ltd., the company’s local subsidiary, operates the line with the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. Chevron, based in San Ramon, Calif., previously pulled out of the area in 2003 over vandalism and attacks by local militants, but returned in 2007.

The Chevron subsidiary “is assessing the situation, has informed relevant stakeholders including the communities and is committed to the safety and security of its employees and the protection of the environment in all its operations,” Walker said in a statement.

Lt. Col. Timothy Antigha, a military spokesman, said no one had claimed responsibility for the attack. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main militant group in the region, issued a statement Saturday night that it had sanctioned the attack, but did not participate.

“The attack exposes the continued vulnerability of the oil industry infrastructure and the resolve of the people of the Niger Delta to fight for their land,” the statement read.

The MEND attacked the same area in June during a wave of violence before some militants began laying down their arms as part of a government amnesty program. MEND announced it had brokered a unconditional cease-fire with the Nigerian government on Oct. 25, but later said it broke the agreement to attack a pipeline Dec. 19. The group’s statement Saturday said the group would reconsider its resumption of hostilites with the government by Jan. 30.

The attack Friday comes after soldiers shot two contract workers dead and injured four others at Chevron’s Escravos gas project nearby. The soldiers opened fire after buses carrying the contract workers out of the plant blocked them from entering the plant’s property. Workers responded by attacking the soldiers and setting fire to several buildings there.

Linus Chima, a Delta State government spokesman, said he did not know whether the shooting Monday had any part in the pipeline attack.

Militants in the Niger Delta have attacked pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company employees and fought government troops since January 2006. They demand that the federal government send more oil-industry funds to Nigeria’s southern region, which remains poor despite five decades of oil production.

That violence has cut Nigeria’s oil production by about 1 million barrels a day, allowing Angola to surge ahead as Africa’s top oil producer.

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