LAGOS, June 15- US oil major Chevron has been bearing the brunt of a new offensive by Nigeria\’s main rebel group, which is determined to show that a recent government crackdown has failed to crush it.
Three attacks early Monday on its facilities in Abiteye district early Monday were just the latest in a series of operations by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
MEND, which says it wants a fairer distribution of oil wealth to local people, has since May attacked a number of Chevron installations in Nigeria\’s southern oil-producing region.
Destroying sections of pipeline, setting fire to pumping stations and blowing up oil wells, MEND has knocked out at least a quarter of Chevron\’s production in Nigeria.
But MEND told AFP over the weekend that it was not targeting Chevron, and the company was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Chevron happens to find itself in the main theatre of war," the group said in a statement.
Instead the purpose of the operation "is to confirm that in spite of the heavy military presence we can still operate and to let the oil companies know that the military cannot provide them security."
In May, a combined police and army joint task force (JTF) launched an operation against the rebels to drive them out of the heart of the country\’s lucrative oil industry, which has been riven with violence since 2006.
Most of the operations took part in Delta State, the West African state\’s main oil producing region.
But just as the JTF was assuring foreign oil companies that their staff were safe, MEND responded by declaring a new "oil war" and warning oil workers to leave.
Calling its campaign a "hurricane", MEND vowed to target oil industry facilities in a new wave of attacks.
Since then MEND says it has torched a Chevron production facility, destroyed three oil wells, and damaged a pipeline.
Chevron is particularly vulnerable because, whereas some companies have mainly off-shore operations, the US company has several on-shore facilities in the Niger Delta.
Chevron, which up until now has confirmed the various attacks on its sites, preferred to offer no comment Sunday on its position as MEND\’s favoured target.
But in a statement issued May 25, it confirmed that one attack on its pipeline in the Abiteye sector of Delta State had cost it 100,000 barrels a day in production, more than a quarter of the company\’s Nigerian production.
It is not just Chevron which has suffered from MEND attacks — Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell has also had its operations disrupted due to attacks on pipelines.
Overall the unrest has caused oil production — Nigeria\’s main export — to fall by nearly a third, from 2.6 million barrels a day in 2006 to 1.8 million currently.
Nigeria has also lost its place as Africa\’s biggest crude oil producer, being overtaken by Angola last year.