A Shell logo is seen at a petrol station in London. File photo: Reuters

Lagos - Royal Dutch Shell’s Shell Nigeria said on Thursday that it had shut its Trans Niger pipeline (TNP) after an explosion and fire at a “crude oil theft point”, deferring 150 000 barrels per day.

It said in a statement the explosion occurred at a section of the pipeline running through Bodo West, in Ogoniland, an area already heavily polluted by oil spills.

It said the 28 section of the pipeline would remain shut “until the fire has been extinguished, and investigation and damage assessment completed”.

“This is another sad reminder of the tragic consequences of crude oil theft,” Shell country director Mutiu Sunmonu said in the statement.

“Unknown persons continued to reconnect illegal bunkering hoses at Bodo West even as our pipeline team were removing crude theft points.”

The government says oil 'bunkering', hacking into pipelines to steal crude then refining it or selling it abroad, is a major drain on the treasury, with between 150 000 barrels and 180 000 barrels a day stolen.

The accountant general said on Thursday that oil theft and pipeline vandalism were responsible for a five-percent fall in Nigeria's government revenues.

Bodo already suffers heavy pollution from a series of oil spills over the past decade that have left its waters covered in a constant film of crude.

Environmental campaigners and rights groups accuse Shell of using sabotage by oil thieves as an excuse for oil accidents.

“Sabotage is a problem in Nigeria, but Shell exaggerates this issue to avoid criticism for its failure to prevent oil spills,” Amnesty International's Audrey Gaughran said in a statement on Wednesday.

Shell says oil theft is nowadays responsible for most oil spilt. In March it said the practice had reached “unprecedented” levels. - Reuters