There Will Be Blood

by Chris Borgen

The NY Times Week in Review has an article written by Graham Bowley on the effect of recent attacks by Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) on Nigeria’s oil infrastructure and the effects of these attacks on world oil prices. The piece begins:

When armed rebels from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta attacked an enormous oil facility 75 miles off the swampy West African coast on June 19, traveling hours by speedboat under cover of darkness and kidnapping an oil worker, their brazen assault underlined the perhaps underappreciated dependence of the United States — and the world — on oil from Nigeria.

Three days afterward, Nigerian officials said at a hastily arranged global energy summit in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, that recent attacks had cut Nigeria’s oil production to its lowest level in nearly two decades, giving oil markets the jitters and helping to send prices higher…

“We always focus on the Persian Gulf but this is one of the key oil security issues in the world today,” said Daniel Yergin, one of the nation’s best-known energy experts and chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting firm. “It’s tied up with Nigerian politics, regional and national battles for power, and criminality.” When Mr. Yergin spoke to lawmakers at a hearing in Congress last week, he was asked what would most help stabilize world markets. “Helping bring peace to the Niger Delta would be a major contribution,” he responded.

The Times article continues that responding to the situation in Nigeria will need both a sound development policy and a counter-insurgency strategy:

According to J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, the government led by Nigeria’s new president, Umaru Yar’Adua, must break with decades of neglect and pay attention to the troubles of the southern delta region by promoting development but also cracking down on the rebels and “demonstrating that these guys cannot operate with impunity.”

He’s not very optimistic, however. “When you look at the delta, the overwhelming picture is that the situation has very little promise of being fixed,” he said.

While development policy is always a complex issue, the “operate with impunity” part is also a problem, as MEND has started attacking not just oil pipelines, but offshore oil platforms, as well. MEND even issued a press release that states, “The location for today’s attack was deliberately chosen to remove any notion that off-shore oil exploration is far from our reach.” Jeff Vail of The Oil Drum explains that this is especially significant as 90% of Nigeria’s oil growth is expected to be via new offshore platforms. Which now seem vulnerable to attack.

John Robb, who writes extensively on guerilla-based “fourth generation warfare” is concerned that destabilization from infrastructure attacks will worsen:

So, given production limitations and strong/concentrated demand, even small disruptions by guerrilla groups on light sweet crude production is likely to have a direct influence on global oil pricing (in contrast, disruptions aimed at heavy crude production should have little impact on global pricing). Further, there are already active groups in many of the most critical production areas.

Fortunately, from the demonstrated behavior of these groups it doesn’t appear that guerrilla/terrorist groups have fully grasped their potential market power with small attacks (despite aspirational pronouncements from al Qaeda and large scale attacks in 2005/2006). Once they do, as bad as disruption is today, it could get MUCH worse.

Why? A direct connection to scalable profits…

As we saw with e-mail spam/phishing, even the faintest whiff of profits can turn a loose collection of individuals/groups into a torrential crime-fueled marketplace generated billions and attracting tens of thousands of participants. Are we about to see the same occur with oil?

For example, consider Columbia. John Robb notes that

Disruption isn’t limited to Nigeria. A remote control bomb by the FARC on Occidental Petroleum’s pipeline in Colombia just knocked out 100,000 barrels a day. It’s also interesting to note how irrelevant the US military/national security system has become in regards to global energy security. The entire paradigm of warfare has changed but the $1 Trillion behemoth has barely budged.

While I doubt that the end is nigh, the situation is obviously serious and it won’t be solved by a combination of a dithering domestic energy policy and a foreign policy of “assisted” regime-change. So, for now, only one thing is certain…

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/06/29/there-will-be-blood/

3 Responses

  1. I lived in Nigeria in 1967-1970 during the Biafran War. There has been blood and there will be blood until the Nigerian leadership decide to accept their destiny to lead the great nation in its entirety.

    Best,

    Ben

  2. Ben:

    The relationship of oil to the secessionist conflicts (past and present) in Nigeria is of interest to me. As you may know, oil wealth is supposed to be distributed via communal regions within Nigeria. Political scientists have been looking at how this economic incentive has affected the concept of “nationhood” within Nigeria. Here’s one factoid I found interesting:

    “So strongly are the boundaries of imagined political communities [in Nigeria] driven by perceived economic interests from oil rents that, whereas in 1970 had only three regions, it now [in 2006] has thirty-six”

    Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, The Political Economy of Secession, in NEGOTIATING SELF DETERMINATION 37, 48 (HURST HANNUM &EILEEN F. BABBITT, EDS.) (2006).

    The concern is that the oil revenue distribution plan (such as it is) incentivizes the splitting and re-splitting of political communities, pitting each against the others.

    At this point, I have no idea if this is an accurate description or not, but it is the type of thing that I want to learn more about.

    Chris

  3. Offshore platforms are still a superior security solution.

    It’ll be regrettable if they have to turn into virtual mini-fortresses to operate, but any guerrilla operations across miles of open ocean are at a distinct disadvantage.

    There remain dozens of fields onshore that are simply cannot be operated due to security concerns.

    The high price of oil allows the government to postpone solving this problem as production loss is not felt fiscally.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. There are no trackbacks or pingbacks associated with this post at this time.