By my reckoning, Nigeria likely is the world's most dangerous country in which to conduct oil and gas operations. And yet, 15 companies have agreed to participate in what ultimately could become a major natural gas development project there.

The companies, whose names have not yet been disclosed, were chosen from among nearly 50 applicants. They are reported to include ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), Chevron (NYSE:CVX), Norway's StatoilHydro (NYSE:STO), and Russia's Gazprom (OTC BB: OGZPY. PK). The 15 will likely form consortiums and specify plans regarding how they will coordinate their efforts with NNPC, Nigeria's state-run oil company.

The initial investment per consortium will be $2.5 billion, although it could climb as high as $30 billion. The project is expected to involve exploration and production, along with the construction of three gas-gathering plants, and the laying of pipelines to upgrade Nigeria's power infrastructure.

In addition to its crude reserves, OPEC member Nigeria sits atop an estimated 180 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, ranking it seventh in the world. However, extracting it efficiently has proven difficult. Conditions are especially dangerous in the Niger Delta, where the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) remains a constant threat.

The group conducts frequent attacks on oilfield workers -- even offshore. A common result is the significant curtailment of production, sometimes for long periods of time. Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) (NYSE:RDS-B) signed an agreement in February for a $1.6 billion gas project in the Niger Delta despite having lost 1.6 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas in Nigeria since November due to sabotage. That cost the Nigerian government about $180 million per month.  

What does all this mean to Foolish investors? For a while, given the conditions in Nigeria, it probably means little. But over time, if the cooperative effort works and the companies are able to monetize whatever discoveries they make without interruption, the participants and their shareholders could benefit substantially.

In the meantime, with crude prices rising, there are plenty of other reasons to pay close attention to Big Oil. As has been the case for a while now, my favorite is ExxonMobil, the biggest of them all.    

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome your questions, comments, or criticisms. StatoilHydro ASA is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.