Shell puts out 4-month Nigerian oil pipeline fire

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LAGOS, Oct 18 (Reuters) Royal Dutch Shell has put out the last of six fires that blazed for four months on a major oil export pipeline in Nigeria, the company said today.

The fires, started after holes were drilled into a section of the pipeline in the Ogoni area of the southern state of Rivers between June 18 and 27, were extinguished on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the company said there was no significant impact on production and exports by the fires, but declined to explain why.

''The company's firefighters put out the final fire on October 16 ... all the six fires in Ogoniland are now out and all the vandalised sections repaired,'' Shell said in a statement.

Shell abandoned its oilfields in Ogoniland after a wave of popular protests over pollution and neglect in 1993, but it still has big pipelines passing through the region and many residents are still angry about spills and what they see as neglect.

It took months to douse the fires because the communities had initially denied the company access, until the Rivers state government and the local council intervened, Shell said.

The pipeline, which also evacuates crude oil from fields operated by other companies, has been sabotaged nine times since January, Shell said. Two separate attacks in May forced the company to halt up to 170,000 barrels per day (bpd) production for a few days.

This came on top of about 600,000 bpd of output shut down in the another part of the Niger Delta since February 2006.

Local rights group, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, had previously said the fires were started by local youths angry with the company over what they said were unfulfilled promises for jobs and benefits.

Such disputes between communities and oil companies are common in the Niger Delta, a vast impoverished wetlands region which is home to all the OPEC member nation's oil.

A federal government-sponsored peace process in Ogoni has failed to quell protests and discontent in the area.

But Shell said in the statement that the Rivers state government gave it approval to secure its assets in Ogoniland and urged it to resume the repair of some damaged facilities.

Reuters SKB RN1954

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