Crude oil production at Nigeria’s Warri refinery in the country’s restive Niger Delta region has not been affected by an explosion heard near the site, the country’s oil labour union said on Friday.
The explosion heard by locals late on Thursday follows a series of attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta by militants that have cut the OPEC member’s crude oil production by about a third.
“No one has been able to pinpoint the explosion but there was a big bang around Warri axis yesterday. For now no production is affected,” said Cogent Ojobor, zonal chairman of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG).
The Nigerian navy said the blast was caused when its officers foiled an attempt to attack energy facilities.
“Our men fired at a boat that was suspected of carrying explosive materials,” said navy spokesman Joseph Dzunve, adding that the gunfire was likely to have hit the explosives.
In a separate incident in the Niger Delta on Thursday, a Nigerian militant group claimed responsibility for an attack on the Unenurhie-Evwreni pipeline in Ughelli.
Following several years of relative calm, the attacks by the Niger Delta Avengers, or NDA, started in February after Buhari ended security contracts and said payments that had turned earlier militants into protectors would cease in 2017.
While the rebels say they want more local control of oil resources and earn justice for impoverished local communities, the return of violence has worsened economic problems in Nigeria, where oil accounts for two-thirds of government revenue and almost all exports earnings.
The military launched a new offensive in August against militants in the swampy region, which is laced with oil and gas infrastructure that is difficult to protect from attacks. But the shadowy group calling itself the Niger Delta Avengers has said recently that it is open to dialogue with the Muhammadu Buhari-led government.
Formal talks have not yet been held, to the frustration of residents of the impoverished Delta, and may be derailed by Saturday’s attack. Community leaders in the region say it remains unclear whether President Buhari is committed to discussions to resolve the crisis, because he has not made statements to that effect or visited the Delta since taking office.
Attacks this year on oil installations in the southerly region claimed by the Avengers have cut Nigeria’s production to less than 1.4m barrels a day, nearly 40 per cent less than its recent peak.
The new militancy has raised fears of a return to the prolonged unrest witnessed in the 2006-09 uprising in the Delta.
The attack cut production at the Bonny 48-inch crude oil export line, the Avengers said in an online statement on Saturday, the authenticity of which was impossible to verify. Shell declined to comment and there was no immediate statement from the Nigerian government.
The attacks underline how volatile Nigeria’s production remains as global markets watch it and Libya, the other Opec producer where output has been disrupted in recent months.
Long Africa’s top oil producer, Nigeria has been pumping less than Angola for months.