- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Militants threatened more attacks on Nigeria’s oil facilities and vowed yesterday to cut daily oil exports by 1 million barrels, adding to concerns for OPEC as it prepares for a strategy meeting this week.

Oil costs more than $60 a barrel, and energy markets are nervous about potential disruptions to the supply from this OPEC member, which is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil.

A.F. Alhajji, an energy analyst at Ohio Northern University, said the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is unlikely to trim the cartel’s overall output when it meets Wednesday because of worries about the unrest in Nigeria’s oil region and Iraq’s crippled production.

In attacks on Nigerian pipelines and oil facilities, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has reduced the country’s production by 455,000 barrels a day. Nigeria normally exports 2.5 million barrels daily.

“Our target for the month of March is a further cut of 1 million barrels,” the insurgent group said in an e-mail to the Associated Press.

The group claims to be fighting for the interests of Niger Delta’s people, who remain impoverished while the Nigerian government benefits from the region’s oil wealth. The group threatens to escalate the conflict by attacking international oil tankers in Nigerian waters.

“We are going to inflict one huge, crippling blow on the Nigerian oil industry and a most embarrassing attack on the Nigerian government,” the e-mail said.

Attacks since January have helped push edgy oil prices higher on international markets. In its last attack, on Feb. 20, the militants destroyed a Shell-operated pipeline.

However, a warmer-than-usual winter in the United States, the world’s largest consumer, has helped ease some of that pressure on prices.

On Wednesday, OPEC’s 12 member nations will set production targets for the spring, a period of traditionally lower demand for oil, coming between winter’s heavy use of heating oil and summer’s high demand for gasoline.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez is urging production cuts in anticipation of lesser demand. But analysts are betting the cartel will keep total output unchanged because of concerns about rising gasoline prices, Nigeria’s instability and threats to Middle Eastern pipelines.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency estimates that global demand could be nearly 2 million barrels a day lower in the second quarter than in the first three months of the year as winter gives way to warmer weather.

In the Nigerian Delta turmoil, ethnic Ijaw militants took nine foreign oil workers hostage Feb. 18 and released six of them last week. Yesterday, the militants said they had no plans to release the remaining three — two Americans and one Briton.

The militants want President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government to release two prominent Ijaws — an insurgent leader accused of treason and a former regional governor held on corruption charges after he fled money-laundering charges in Britain.

They also want the government to increase their region’s share of oil wealth. The Ijaws, who number between 8 million and 12 million, are the dominant tribe in the Niger Delta.

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