Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Nigeria Escalation

Energy Intelligence Note: 9 May, 2007

The situation in Nigeria is escalating--as expected, geologically-driven declines in oil production are spawning geopolitically-driven increases in disruptions from "above-ground factors." The recent attacks on major oil pipelines in Nigeria cut all oil flow to AGIP's Brass Export Terminal, taking a further 200,000 barrels per day off the market. On top of that, take a look at the latest unclassified figures on kidnappings in Nigeria, courtesy of the CIA:

Total Hostages (Unresolved): 66 (0)
American Hostages (Unresolved): 0 (0)

Total Hostages (Unresolved): 106 (17)
Amercan Hostages (Unresolved): 17 (5)

And 2007 is only half over! That represents a rougly 200% year-on-year increase in total hostages, and a huge leap in the "value" of these hostages, as reflected by the sudden shift toward higher-skill and western workers, as shown by the sudden prevalence of American hostages.

The coordinated nature of the recent triple pipeline attack suggests that broader, hierarchal organizations such as MEND are alive and well. This doesn't, however, mean that the kind of localized criminal organizations that I spoke of in my recent Oil Drum article on Nigeria are going away. On the contrary, it means that politically-motivated groups such as MEND must now differentiate themselves from the criminal gangs if they wish to put weight behind their political demands. If MEND and criminal gangs resort to the same tactics, there is no motivation on the part of either the Nigerian government or foreign oil companies to cave to MEND's political demands when this won't end the disruption caused by criminal gangs. MEND must pursue increasingly coordinated, high-impact attacks to give them a bargaining chip that is unique, a bargaining chip that is not shared by criminal gangs who won't participate in a cease fire. Logic dictates that differentiating themselves from criminal gangs requires a new targeting focus: offshore oil facilities. MEND has demonstrated a limited ability in the past to operate in the offshore environment. The Nigerian navy is certainly in no shape to effectively counter them. Expect a wave of significant offshore attacks to be the next major development in Nigeria. Offshore facilities are highly vulnerable and minimally defended--consider the destruction caused by mistake or malfunction at the Piper Alpha platform. Now consider how long it takes to repair a major offshore facility in today's economy. An attack on a major offshore facility is the next logical targeting choice, and MEND is at a critical juncture where it must demonstrate its political relevance or fade away as a centralized, unified organization.

A recent commen was right on the money: the geopolitical distruptions caused by geological peaking in oil production may provide exactly the cover necessary to avoid recognition of the geological forces driving these events. It's a challenge to make a scapegoat out of geological reality, but foreign terrorists and resource nationalism are easy marks!


dark matter said...

When you say "localized criminal organizations" and "gangs," are you referring to Chevron, Exxon, and their friends? I suggest you take off your rose colored glasses.

I would rather think that MEND and other dispossessed groups have now figured out that there is no equitable/political solution to be had by negotiating with the petro-cabal.

Jeff Vail said...

I think you're jumping to conclusions. "Criminal" doesn't necessarily imply a judgment that such groups are morally "wrong." Rather, if you read the article on Nigeria that I wrote at The Oil Drum (linked above), you'll see that I don't view these groups in quite such a morally black or white manner. Rather, the word "criminal" is the most accurate--they are breaking the law. There are legitimate questions to be raised about how "just" that law is, but this is an entirely separate debate. Peak Oil and oil geopolitics are well within the realm of pragmatism and realpolitik, and don't really respond to our hopes and dreams of a just world (the real "rose colored glasses"), just to power.

Randy Kirk said...

Are the offshore platforms that vulnerable? If they are 50 miles or so offshore (I am guessing, I don't know exactly how far offshore they are on average), the militants would ride a boat with explosives to attack? Are suicide bombings the method of Nigerian militants (if they are mainly mercenaries, and economically minded gangs)? Also couldn't the offshore platforms could see them coming from far away?

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