Fighting for Nigeria’s oil

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Scott Jagow: The price of oil seems to be yo-yoing in a certain range close to $140 a barrel. This morning, it’s at $138. One thing that people have their eye on is what’s happening in Nigeria. Production is down some 300,000 barrels a day because of more attacks on oil pipelines and rigs. Last week, a rig well off the coast of Nigeria was attacked. And again, a certain group claimed responsibility.

Let’s find out more about this situation. We’re joined by our correspondent in Africa, Gretchen Wilson. Gretchen, what do we know about these militants?

Gretchen Wilson:
Sure. Well, the movement for the emancipation for a Niger Delta, and it’s a pretty decentralized group of about a couple thousand members. Most of them are young men from the Niger Delta, and they’re known mostly for kidnapping foreign oil workers and waging some attackes on pipelines that are inland. What you can . . . what the main thing you need to know about them is that their efforts have effectively curbed production of oil in Nigeria by as much as 20 percent in recent years.

Jagow: And what exactly does this group want?

Wilson: Well, just like most of the people who live in the Niger Delta, they want to tap into the billions upon billions of dollars that are being pumped out of the ground. It’s an extremely poor area, and they want to get access to the resources that are being pumped out of what they consider their land.

Jagow: And what about the oil companies who are doing their work here? Some of their workers have bene taken hostage and things like that. So how are they involved in this process of trying to prevent these attacks from happening?

Wilson: Multinational oil companies are very engaged and very involved with government trying to figure out what kind of solution they can come up with to get these attacks to stop. One of the things that’s notable about the offshore oil attack of the Royal Dutch Shell oil rig is that it happened 75 miles off the coast of Nigeria. And up until now, most people had seen these oil rigs as immune from militant attacks. They’re very concerned about what this may mean for their future installations and for future operations. If these could be attacked by guys in speedboats, what does that mean for the future of oil production in the gulf of Guinea?

Jagow: And Gretchen, how about the U.S. government? This is the fourth-largest supplier of oil to the U.S., being Nigeria. What is the U.S. government doing?

Wilson: The U.S. government is also very engaged and watching this very closely. As you said, Nigeria is hugely important to U.S. markets. It is the fourth-biggest supplier, and the fact that this has been a distruption is pointing many people to try to put pressure on the government of Nigeria to make this problem go away. As American consumers, we go through about one million barrels a day from that country alone. So we can’t really stand to lose 300,000 barrels a day.

All right. Gretchen Wilson reporting from Africa. Thank you.

Wilson: Thank you, Scott.

All reporting by Gretchen L. Wilson, © 2008

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