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More losses in Nigeria after pipeline attack

LAGOS, June 22 – Nigerian militants blew up a key oil supply pipeline operated by Chevron, in the latest attack targeting the country\’s multi-billion-dollar oil industry, company and military sources said Saturday.

The US oil giant was forced to shut down operations as a result of the attack it said occurred Thursday night in the volatile Niger Delta, halting output by 120,000 barrels per day, an industry source said.

The latest attack came hours after Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell said it could not promise to deliver 225,000 barrels per day for June and July following an unprecedented raid on its offshore Bonga oilfield.

Unrest in the Niger Delta has reduced Nigeria\’s total oil production by a quarter in the past two years, and the losses have contributed significantly to the recent surge in world oil prices.

"Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL), operator of the NNPC/CNL Joint Venture, can confirm that one of its pipelines was breached at about 10.40 pm on Thursday, June 19, 2008 in the swamp area of Delta State," the firm said in an e-mail statement to AFP.

Company spokesman Kurt Glaubitz said, "the joint venture\’s onshore production has been shut in to protect the environment."

He said the company was assessing the situation and could not "provide specific production figures."

However industry sources said Chevron had declared force majeure, halting 120,000 barrels per day output.

Force majeure is a legal clause allowing producers to miss contracted deliveries because of circumstances beyond their control. Shell also declared force majeure on 225,000 barrels per day for June and July deliveries on Friday.

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Nigeria\’s military Joint Task Force (JTF), protecting oil facilities and personnel in the restive region, confirmed the incident, while saying it happened Friday.

"The attack took place near Escravos. The supply pipeline was blown up. The company has shut down operation in the area," JTF commander Brigadier-General Wuyep Rimtip told AFP Saturday.

Rimtip said the attack on the Abiteye-Olero crude oil lines could have been carried out by militants using explosives and rocket-propelled grenades.

"We have launched a manhunt for the attackers," he said, adding that no-one was hurt in the incident.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

The raid early Thursday by speedboats on the floating production plant in the Bonga oilfield 120 kilometres offshore was claimed by the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which has carried out a string of attacks on oil facilities in recent months.

Earlier Saturday, MEND, the best equipped and most organised of the armed groups operating in the Niger Delta, urged foreign workers to leave the region, warning of fresh unrest following a government crackdown on the militants.

Chevron operates and holds a 40 percent interest in 13 concessions covering 2.2 million acres, predominantly in the onshore and near-offshore regions of the Niger Delta.

Last year its total production from 32 fields averaged 353,000 barrels per day of crude oil, 14 million cubic feet of natural gas and 4,000 barrels of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), according to its website.

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According to International Energy Agency statistics, Nigeria produced an average 2.13 million bpd in 2007, making it the 13th biggest producer in the world.

But it has slipped from its position as Africa\’s largest producer, being overtaken in April by Angola.

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