LAGOS Royal Dutch Shell said on Sunday that sabotage of its crude oil pipelines in Nigeria's southern Niger Delta had increased in recent weeks, but was silent on whether there had been any impact on output.
Shell's Nigerian SPDC joint venture said it had recorded three incidents this month of suspected thieves drilling holes or using hacksaws to pierce pipelines in the Cawthorne Channel leading to its Bonny export terminal, and siphon off oil.
"In the latest incident, the investigating team discovered three hacksaw cuts on the Cawthorne Channel-Bonny pipeline. We have informed the relevant authorities of the incidents," said Babs Omotowa, Shell's Africa vice president, health and safety.
A Shell spokesman said he could not immediately comment on any production impact, but that the firm was working to repair the Cawthorne Channel pipeline.
Shell said it had set up containment booms to prevent crude oil spreading further into the environment in the Niger Delta, a vast network of mangrove creeks that make up one of the world's largest wetlands.
Remote, poor communities in the Niger Delta have suffered decades of pollution from spills that have been left to fester, damaging the air, soil and water.
The U.S. government's all-out fight to contain the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a marked contrast to the situation in the Niger Delta, leading campaigners to ask why Shell and other international oil firms in Nigeria are not paying more compensation.
But oil firms say most of the recent pollution in the Niger Delta is caused by militant attacks and by thieves tapping into pipelines, compounded by security problems that have at times made it difficult for engineers to reach the affected sites.
"Last year, 98 percent of the oil spilled from SPDC operations was caused by sabotage. It is our policy to clean up spills regardless of the cause," Omotowa said.
"While we continue to contain and recover oil spilled from the Cawthorne Channel-Bonny pipeline and other facilities, our task is made more difficult if people insist on carrying out sabotage attacks and causing spills."
Shell says it paid $4 million in compensation last year related to oil spills in Nigeria.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)