Everyone’s favorite fungible commodity is causing some real trouble in Nigeria, where rebels claiming to represent “ethnic Ijaw communities” are laying siege to property owned by Royal Dutch Shell, the Guardian reports. There’s even a hostage crisis brewing:

The group of three Americans, two Thais, two Egyptians, a Filipino, and a Briton — John Hudspith — were seized by up to 40 gunmen who stormed a pipe-laying barge. In emails to news agencies, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said its goal was to punish oil corporations and the government for siphoning off the region’s wealth without returning anything to its impoverished ethnic Ijaw communities; as well as saying the hostages’ fate had yet to be decided, the movement also warned that they might end up being killed in crossfire with the army.

The rebels managed to halt about a fifth of supply in Nigeria, which according to the Wall Street Journal is “Africa’s leading oil exporter and the U.S.’s fifth-largest supplier, usually exporting 2.5 million barrels daily.” Crude surged past the $60/barrel mark on the news.

I wonder what ol’ Shotgun Dick Cheney thinks of all this. Interestingly, the story hasn’t made it out of the commodity columns of the big U.S. newspapers, where such news is presented as if it popped full-grown out of history’s belly. I hope the WSJ does one of its big in-depth backgrounders soon. Until, then, here’s a little something from the Guardian:

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Militant groups in the oil-rich Niger Delta have fought the government and the oil industry for 15 years, demanding a greater share of oil revenues and compensation for environmental damage. They have attacked oil facilities and taken hostages. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is fighting for control of the area’s oil wealth, saying local people have not benefited. In 1995 Ken Saro-Wiwa, a writer and campaigner, was executed. One group has demanded $1.5bn (£860m) from Shell to compensate for pollution. Stealing oil from pipelines has resulted in fatal explosions. Analysts say attacks will halt up to 20% of the delta’s crude production this year.

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