OPEC may have given Nigeria a pass on the output cuts expected to be divvied out officially at the close of November, but it’s D-Day for the militancy that has so far decimated the country’s oil production by half and taken some 2.2 million barrels of oil per day out of play. There has been a slight reprieve in Nigeria since the main militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA)—agreed to a ceasefire, leaving the playing field to smaller, unrelated groups who have continued to pick only at state-run pipelines to keep the militancy alive.

Right now, all eyes are on Shell’s Forcados export pipeline, which is due to resume exports after attacks forced it to shut down in February. And by all eyes, we mean all—including militants. The focus on Forcados is precisely because companies are once again—and rather suddenly—purchasing Forcados crude, with a line-up including Royal Dutch Shell, which is buying up 1 million barrels for delivery to refineries between 20 and 25 November, according to Bloomberg. Forcados was one of the first major attacks launched by the NDA, and it gave us our first glimpse of the group’s capabilities: This is a major underwater pipeline feeding the Forcados crude export terminal, and it required diving expertise to execute.

Then there was a ceasefire, which was declared in August, but it is a fragile one indeed. On 24 September 2016, in the middle of the ceasefire, the NDA carried out what they called a “warning attack” on a major pipeline feeding Shell’s Bonny export terminal. The NDA said that the government was dragging its feet in starting constructive dialogue. Shell Nigeria’s Bonny crude exports are now on thin ice, and everyone’s waiting to see if they’ll have to declare force majeure on this as well.
Adding to the Nigerian oil unknowns, a crucial meeting between the Niger Delta stakeholders and the government, which was scheduled for 25 September in Abuja, was cancelled after a line-up of prominent delegates from the region declined to attend.

The government’s practice of deploying troops while claiming to seek constructive dialogue has been received with skepticism by the militants, and anger is boiling over as a result of the death of the father of Government Tompolo, one of the two leaders of the 2005-2009 Niger Delta militant coalition (MEND). Now, sources on the ground in the Niger Delta say they are concerned about rumors that some groups are planning to hit the Forcados export pipeline soon. The Nigerian military is likely to respond with an iron fist, targeting nearby communities—an act that will further escalate the tit-for-tat violence.

As for the relaunch of Forcados deliveries (in terms of purchases already made), they will coincide with the end of the rainy season in the Delta—a timeframe that the NDA has suggested would be a prime time for relaunching attacks in full force should the government fail to meet its demands. Aside from the “warning attacks” on Bonny crude on September 25, the most recent bombings in the Niger Delta were perpetrated by groups other than the NDA. A newer group called the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate has orchestrated the bombings of state-run pipelines. This group is not connected in any way to the NDA, and it is bent on continuing the attacks even with the NDA ceasefire.

The Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate is drawn from the Urhobo ethnic group, which is significant because the majority of Niger Delta militants (including the NDA) are drawn from the majority Ijaw ethnic group. The Urhobo do not have the same local support base that the NDA and other Ijaw groups have.

The Greenland group is specifically targeting NPDC (the state-owned oil grouping) installations because these are the only installations in the area where the Greenland group operates. Shell was previously in this area, but sold off its assets here. Today, there are no major oil operations in this specific area.

NPDC is the oil exploration unit of the Nigerian oil company, NNPC. By hitting it, they’re directly hitting the government. There is likely no imminent threat to the international oil majors from this group due to tribal nuances and geography.

This means that the recent attacks are not nearly as significant to Nigeria’s oil production picture as those perpetrated by the NDA. The NDA seems to be maintaining its ceasefire, at least for the most part, and only time will tell what November will bring.

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