Oil prices hit new peak on Niger Delta tensions

Henry Okah, a leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), is rumored to have been killed Feb. 18 upon being extradited from Angola to Nigeria. A MEND communique, signed by Jomo Gbomo, said: “Disturbing reports just reaching us suggests that Henry Okah succumbed to injuries from gun shot wounds at about 0400 hrs today, February 19, 2007 at a military hospital in Kaduna State of Nigeria after he was shot in what those interrogating him claimed was an ‘accidental discharge’ from the automatic weapon from one of the guards.” The statement said MEND “is giving the Federal Government of Nigeria within the next 24 hours to confirm or deny this murder rumour. Failure to do this will bring bloodbath in that region and beyond. We will not take prisoners from the military or oil workers.” (Lagos Vanguard via AllAfrica, Feb. 19)

Global oil prices shot back to above $100 a barrel in response to the threats, for the first time since early January. The Feb. 18 close of $100.10 a barrel surpassed by 1 cent the previous record of Jan. 3. Also cited was news that Alon USA Energy’s 70,000-bpd refinery in Big Spring, TX, was shut down due to an explosion that injured five workers, one seriously. (Business Times, AFP, Feb. 19)

The New York Times emphasizes that this was the first-ever close above $100—the Jan. 3 record having been set in an intraday high. However, the report also says this only represented an all-time record “in nominal terms,” as it is shy of the inflation-adjusted record of $103.35, set in April 1980. The report said the US economic slowdown is not likely to bring down prices. US demand for gasoline has slipped about 50,000 bpd (out of total daily consumption of over 20 million barrels) so far this year, but consumption in China, India and the oil-producing countries themselves continues to rise. The Times also cited the tension with Venezuela as contributing to the peak, despite a new statement by President Hugo Chávez retracting his recent threat to halt oil exports to the US. (NYT, Feb. 19)

See our last posts on Nigeria, and Venezuela and the global oil shock.