Lagos - A top official at Royal Dutch Shell PLC bragged to US diplomats that her company infiltrated “all relevant ministries” involved in its business in oil-rich Nigeria, a leaked diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks shows.
Diplomatic messages also published by the website on Wednesday show Shell official Ann Pickard discussing her fears about militants in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta obtaining anti-aircraft guns.
Other messages show oil officials fearful of Chinese and Russian companies breaking into a market vital to US fuel interests, despite saying all the major fields in the West African nation had already been developed.
Shell officials in Nigeria did not immediately respond to requests for comment late on Wednesday night. A spokesman at the US embassy in Nigeria's capital of Abuja declined to comment. WikiLeaks is a website that specialises in publishing leaked material and recently made a number of US diplomatic cables public.
A cable dated October 20, 2009, outlines a conversation Pickard had with then-US Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders about potential concerns Shell had about the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill. Analysts say the bill, if passed, would sharply reduce the profits of foreign oil companies like Shell, which has a subsidiary operating oil fields in Nigeria. Government officials say the bill would allow more oil money to return to Nigeria's people, as well as overhaul the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.
When asked by Sanders about Chinese interest in Nigeria, the cable shows Pickard said that Nigerian officials said their offers weren't good enough.
“Pickard said Shell had good sources to show that their data had been sent to both China and Russia,” the cable reads. “She said the (government of Nigeria) had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries.”
Pickard left Nigeria this year and now serves as country chair of Shell's operations in Australia.
Shell discovered the first oil play in the Niger Delta in 1956 and started pumping crude out of the swamps two years later. It has since been the dominant oil company in the former British protectorate - and has been demonised both by environmentalists and by community activists over-pollution and the delta's unceasing poverty.
During the October conversation, Pickard said Shell was producing 663 000 barrels of oil a day - with about 900 000 barrels unable to be pumped. Nigeria's oil industry has seen production drop after an insurgency began in 2006. However, production now stands at 2.2 million barrels of oil a day after a government-sponsored amnesty program last year brought fighters out of the region's winding creeks, pushing the country back to being Africa's top crude producer.
Still, companies remain concerned about militants. In a September 2008 cable, officials say Pickard asked about militants obtaining anti-aircraft guns. She also asked what the US knew about Russian firm Gazprom's interest in Nigeria.
In another cable, Pickard also alleged that individuals close to late President Umaru Yar'Adua were demanding bribes and stealing crude from oil company pipelines running through the Niger Delta, a region roughly the size of Portugal.
Another cable recounting a February meeting between US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnny Carson and oil company executives shows the US' strong criticism of Chinese interests in the continent's crude supply.
“China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals,” the cable quotes Carson as saying. “China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons. China is in Africa for China primarily.”
Despite oil companies' continued interest in Nigeria, some appear to be hesitant about Nigeria's future growth in the field. The same February cable quotes Andrew Fawthrop, managing director of Chevron Corp.'s Nigerian subsidiary, as dismissing Nigeria's oil potential.
“The large fields, elephants, have all been developed in Nigeria per Fawthrop,” the cable reads. “What remains are fields one-quarter to one-third the size. The same costs are involved in producing the oil but the revenue will be less because there is less oil.”
And ironically, one cable quotes Pickard explaining her hesitancy in talking to US diplomats.
“Pickard has repeatedly told us she does not like to talk to (US government) officials because the (US government) is 'leaky’,” the cable reads. - Sapa-AP