By Libby George
LONDON – Nigeria kept exporting crude oil at a largely steady pace in May, though below historical levels, despite repeated militant attacks on its infrastructure that drove output down to 30-year lows this spring and helped global prices rise, data showed.
Data from maritime intelligence firm Windward and Thomson Reuters showed a far smaller drop in exports from April to May than most in the market had expected. It suggested that Nigerian oil production is more resilient than many thought.
Its oil industry has been grappling with a spate of militant attacks that took out the Forcados crude oil stream in February and affected Bonny Light, Brass River and Escravos in May mainly by targeting pipelines taking crude to export terminals.
An accident on the terminal exporting Qua Iboe, its largest oil stream, further knocked production and led the International Energy Agency (IEA) to declare May production at 30-year lows of 1.37 million bpd.
But Windward showed May exports dropping by just 62,000 barrels per day (bpd) from April, with exports still reaching 1.89 million bpd.
Windward tracks all exports coming from Nigeria including crude oil, condensates and ship-to-ship transfers, so its figures are nearly always higher than estimates of crude oil production alone.
But its figures indicate that Nigeria exported between 300,000-500,0000 bpd more than what OPEC and other agencies thought it had produced in May.
CEASEFIRE DEAL WITH MILITANTS
The figures are significant, particularly as the government announced a 30-day ceasefire with militants on Tuesday that could forestall further attacks on oil sites.
“It was the gains from small fields that offset declines from others,” said James Davis, head of crude supply at FGE Energy. “The disruptions in the fields that were out was pretty much what we expected. What we didn’t expect was the marginal increases in other fields.”
Reuters data showed total exports in May at roughly 1.67 million bpd, down from 1.77 million bpd in April, and also a rise in exports of grades including Bonga, Agbami, Antan, Amenam, Okwori that helped to offset the losses.
The figures remain substantially below the close to 2 million bpd Nigeria has exported in the best of times.
Still, they suggest that many industry observers, for example the “secondary sources” polled by OPEC that pegged Nigeria’s May production at around 1.4 million bpd, were overly pessimistic about its ability to keep pumping.
Trade sources noted that some of the oil could have come from crude stored at export terminals and on ships offshore.
But these volumes are not typically substantial in Nigeria, and most traders noted that oil kept flowing from streams that had been repeatedly attacked, including Bonny Light and Brass River, while the Qua Iboe outage was shorter-lived than expected.
According to Windward data, 22 million barrels exported in the last 10 days of May pushed exports closer to par with April.
Davis said the full ramifications of Nigeria’s unrest remain unclear, though FGE forecast that June exports would May’s amount. The rise in Qua Iboe exports would be offset by further declines in Bonny Light and Brass River, both of which have faced additional strikes.
“The real impact would be whether there is damage at a field level that is significant enough to have a long term impact,” Davis said.