Nigeria is at it again. I began an article last year by referring to the African country as the world's most dangerous place to produce hydrocarbons, and my opinion hasn't changed.
As you know, an armed attack has been conducted on ExxonMobil's (NYSE: XOM ) Oso platform in the Niger Delta. The Oso field is a major condensate field that produces about 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) from eight platforms. Since the attack, however, it appears that ExxonMobil has shut in about 45,000 bpd of that production.
In conducting its latest attack, militants in five small, fast boats sped to and boarded the target platform. They carefully searched the unit, cut its power supply, beat and robbed those aboard, and kidnapped eight Nigerian crew members.
The perpetrators were affiliated with the infamous Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The group remains a constant threat to Nigerian energy workers and installations as a result of its efforts to garner increased participation in energy profits for the area's indigenous tribes.
MEND has attacked Exxon facilities in the past, along with those of Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A ) , Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) , and Italy's Eni (NYSE: E ) . In the past three months, MEND has carried out sorties against several other energy companies, including China's Sinopec (NYSE: SNP ) .
But it's primarily Nigeria's own production that's being hurt by the stream of attacks. In just the 2005-2009 period, the country's total daily output was lowered by 16%. Conversely, Angola, its key rival for energy supremacy in sub-Saharan Africa, added 55% to its average daily yield.
So although this latest development clearly isn't a benefit to ExxonMobil, it's nevertheless impossible to predict whether the Niger Delta oil scene will ever be (pardon the pun) mended completely. In the meantime, however, the biggest member of Big Oil has numerous unrelated projects in the works across the globe that will maintain its elite status in the sector. A minuscule sampling of those projects might include:
- An active drilling program -- along with Hess (NYSE: HES ) and Petrobras (NYSE: PBR ) -- in Brazil's fertile deepwater Santos Basin.
- A solidification of its place among top U.S. natural gas producers following its acquisition of XTO earlier this year.
- Participation, along with operator Chevron, in the massive Gorgon liquefied natural gas project off Western Australia.
- Significant success in developing the complex, as well as environmentally (and politically) challenging, Sakhalin-1 project offshore from Russia's Sakhalin Island, where Shell met with far more resistance.
There are, of course, scores of other projects worldwide through which Exxon is continuously bolstering its reputation. The company's size, geographic diversity, and technological competence should render it generally unscathed by further violence in the Niger Delta.