Militant attacks have shut in as much as 345,000 barrels per day of Nigerian oil production in the past few days. One of the attacks was against a facility 120 km offshore, demonstrating a significant new militant naval capability. This may prove to be an extremely important development: 1.25 million barrels per day of new offshore production is scheduled to come online in Nigeria over the next 6 years, and all of it was previously believed to be beyond the reach of militants.
Shell’s $3.6 billion “Bonga” Floating Production, Storage, and Offloading vessel (FPSO), 120km from shore in 1000m deep water, was recently attacked by MEND militants.
Overnight on June 19th, militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) struck Shell’s offshore Bonga facility, resulting in Shell declaring force majeure for deliveries of 225,000 barrels per day in June and July. Bonga, the first and largest Nigerian offshore facility, is 120km offshore. Then, on June 20th, militants destroyed a key Chevron pipeline near Escravos, Nigeria, forcing Chevron to shut-in and declare force majeure on 120,000 barrels per day. This article will analyze the significance of the Bonga attack in light of Nigeria's efforts to grow its offshore oil production.
What is at Stake?
This recent attack is particularly troubling in Nigeria, where a February, 2006 Citigroup report noted that "clearly most of the (oil production) growth near-term looks to be in the Nigerian deepwater and as such should be less subject to current disruptions." While offshore production currently only accounts for 16% of Nigeria’s oil production, it is expected to account for 90% of future growth. MEND has already demonstrated its capability to shut in significant portions of Nigeria’s onshore oil production, and now it is threatening to re-attack offshore facilities, urging expatriate workers to abandon them immediately. Significantly, Nigeria’s onshore production is already mature, and government hopes of raising total production to 4 million barrels per day are entirely dependent on the success of the offshore sector. If MEND can continue to interrupt offshore production, the prospects for any increase in production from Nigeria look dim. The situation in Nigeria is particularly important as Nigeria is one of the few states with the potential to significantly increase both production and exports. The megaproject list on WikiPedia shows 345,000 bpd of offshore production set to come online in 2008 (Agbami field, Oso field); 220,000 bpd of offshore production in 2009 (Akpo field, Oyo field); 220,000 bpd of offshore production in 2010 (Bonga North, Bonga Ullage fields); 285,000 bpd of offshore production in 2011 (Bosi, Ukot, Usan fields); 250,000 pbd of offshore production in 2012 (Bonga SW, Nsiko fields); and 150,000 bpd of offshore production in 2013 (Egina field).
That’s 1.25 million barrels per day of new offshore production planned in the next 6 years. None of it was previously considered vulnerable to attack. Now it all appears to be within the demonstrated reach of MEND.
MEND: Potential for Innovation & Improved Capabilities
This most recent offshore attack also highlights significant development in MEND’s capabilities. Comments as early as 2006 noted that MEND’s offshore capabilities are continuously improving, and that facilities as far as 50-60 km offshore may be at risk. Bonga is twice that far offshore, at 120km.
I predicted a year ago that MEND would increasingly focus on Nigeria’s offshore facilities for two reasons: to differentiate their ideologically-grounded struggle from the privateers and criminal bunkering that is also interrupting Nigerian production; and as a result of the innovation that naturally results from their decentralized structure. While this most recent attack demonstrates MEND’s ability to operate in the deepwater environment, it also shows significant room for improvement. MEND’s press release stated that their goal was to gain access to and destroy the facility's main control room, but that they were unable to do so. Their failure, however, most likely provided MEND with the specifics of what capabilities, training, and equipment they will need to succeed in the future, suggesting that the improvements in capability demonstrated in this attack are part of a larger cycle of capability improvements (an OODA Loop).
The recent attack demonstrates three significant and separate advances by MEND: targeting, naval equipment, and training. By targeting far-offshore infrastructure that was previously considered to be beyond their reach, and by targeting projects that are key to the Nigerian government’s revenue plans, MEND has accurately identified a very high return on investment target. This demonstrates an advancement in their ability to pursue “effects-based targeting”—that is, the ability to carefully select targets for their ability to produce the desired effect. For MEND, the desired effect is to force the Nigerian government to better meet the needs of the Delta peoples. Previous tactics of kidnapping and attacking pipelines were poor choices for several reasons: they spawned criminal activity within the Delta, they increased pollution in the already polluted Delta region, and they did not effectively compel the desired action on the part of the Nigerian government. While it is yet to be seen if the current targeting choices will be more successful, in my opinion they are an advancement in targeting skill on the part of MEND.
The Bonga attack also demonstrates a significant advance in MEND’s ability to operate far offshore. While MEND has always been noted for their riverine naval capability, their demonstration of offshore capability suggests an improvement in naval equipment. No information is available on what types of watercraft were used by MEND in the recent Bonga attack, but at a minimum they have demonstrated that their boats have 120km range.
Additionally, MEND demonstrated a fairly advanced set of navigation skills. Standing in a rigid inflatable boat, at 1.7 meters above the water, the visible horizon is only 5km away. Even if Shell’s Bonga facility flares at 100m above the surface, the flare is still below the horizon at 40km. Reports that the attack commenced at 1 a.m. suggest that MEND has developed fairly advanced offshore and nighttime navigation skills, that Nigeria’s naval presence in the region is not currently capable of protecting offshore facilities, and that all major Nigerian offshore facilities are within MEND’s reach.
Conclusion: Geopolitical Feedback Loops in Action
The recent attacks in Nigeria should be viewed as a product of geopolitical feedback loops. I’ve written previously about these feedback loops in operation in Nigeria, and will begin to reassess and update them in upcoming posts. These geopolitical feedback loops are significantly undermining Nigeria’s ability to deliver on their potential to increase oil production and exports. While it may be tempting to view these geopolitical feedback loops as separate from the geological phenomenon of Peak Oil, it is more accurate to view the geopolitical factors as a direct result of geological peaking—-but for geological factors, disruptions in Nigeria would simply cause oil exploration and production to move to other, equally fertile grounds. Instead, the geological reality that there are very few “geologically fertile grounds for increasing oil supply” forces companies to accept the high costs of doing business in Nigeria.