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News (South Africa): Shell cleans up crude oil spill: Posted 28/12/2005

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    Lagos - Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell, said on Tuesday it had stepped up environmental cleansing and was repairing a pipeline that exploded in Nigeria, but couldn't immediately confirm if it had reduced or eliminated the loss of 35 000 barrels a day.

    A company spokesperson said: "The latest information from our head office in Port Harcourt is that we are intensifying the cleaning of spilled crude and to deliver relief materials to affected and displaced people in the communities.

    "Some of the relief materials we are distributing to the affected people are food, water and clothing materials."

    Limited production resumed on Saturday in the affected part of the Niger Delta, but the company maintained a state of force majeure, a measure allowing oil firms to breach their supply contracts in very serious situations.

    Pipeline explodes

    On Monday, the spokesperson said the shortfall was "down to 35 000 barrels a day (bpd) only", but at the height of the crisis after the pipeline exploded on December 21, it was 180 000 barrels a day, meaning a cut of seven percent in oil supplies from Africa's main producer.

    He said he was unsure yet on Tuesday midday if the losses had been reduced from 35 000 bpd or totally eliminated.

    According to the police, at least eight people were killed in communities hit by the blast and it took fire crews and engineers three days to put out the blaze after turning off oil feeding it from flow stations, finally putting out the inferno on Friday.

    Foreign oil companies

    The spokesperson said: "Force majeure is still in force although there have been loading of crude for export at Bonny terminal. Force majeure has to be formally lifted, it might happen when the remaining delayed loadings are done."

    The cause of the blast had not been determined, but investigators suspected the pipeline was deliberately blown up with dynamite.

    The foreign oil companies that operated in Nigeria's oil-rich south faced strong local opposition among members of local communities - who felt they suffered all the environmental hazards - but got almost none of the wealth.

    Oil employees kidnapped

    Oil was Nigeria's almost sole source of foreign earnings, but militant youth groups in the south frequently attacked installations and kidnapped oil employees for ransom because they said local people saw no benefits.

    For decades, the minority ethnic communities of the region had complained not only of dire poverty, but also the harmful effects of pollution and toxic waste.

    Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo declared a state of alert in the delta because of the deaths and after a shadowy, hitherto unknown group claimed responsibility for the explosion.

    Nigeria was Africa's biggest crude producer and sixth biggest worldwide exporter.

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