Nigeria's decision yesterday to take over the oil interest of British Petroleum in that West African country is unlikely to be applied to American and other foreign oil holdings in a broader nationalization move, according to U.S. government and industry officials.
The decision by the military government in Lagos to nationalize BP's 20 percent share in an oil-producing joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell and the Nigerian government, as well as the firm's 60 percent interest in a marketing company, reflected deteriorating relations with the British government, the sources said.
However, the move raised questions about whether Nigeria intends to stretch the limits of its oil boycott against South Africa. Up to now, Nigeria has maintained what U.S. officials call a "primary oil boycott" - meaning that the government forbids the delivery of Nigerian oil to South Africa.
In announcing the nationalization of BP's interests, however, Nigeria accused the company of exporting its own North Sea oil to the "apartheid regime" in South Africa and replacing it on the British domestic market with oil imported from Nigeria.
The British government, which owns 51 percent to BP tonight denied that either North Sea or Nigerian oil was going to South Africa and said Nigeria knew its charge was "totally contrary to the facts."
The official Nigerian statement said conmpensation woudl be paid promptly for the BP shares, which are to be taken over Wednesday by the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. No mention was made of the amount to be paid as compensation.
The statement also said BP's foreign employees must leave Nigeria by Aug. 31, unless they are under contract to a Nigerian firm.
Despite this move, the nationalization is not expected to interrupt production of Nigerian crude, which currently accounts for about 13 percent of U.S. oil imports.
Neither is it expected to affect other foreign oil interests in Nigeria, U.S. sources said, because the Nigerians need foreign experts and managers to help run their oil industry. For example, although Shell, BP's partner in its Nigerian joint venture, is also partly British-owned, the Lagos government stopped short of nationalizing Shell's 20 percent share or expelling its employees.
An executive of Gulf Oil of the United States said he had received no indication of any move to take over the company's Nigerian interests. Gulf holds 40 percent of a joint venture with the Nigerian state oil company which produces 390,000 barrels, a day. Other U.S. oil companies operating in Nigeria include Mobil, Texaco, Socal, Phillips and Ashland.
BP stands to lose more than 350,000 barrels a day of crude oil in addition to its marketing interests. The Shell-BP Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Ltd., of which BP owns 20 percent, produces about half of Nigeria's daily output of 2.4 million barrels a day, entitling BP to about 240,000 barrels a day.
Last week the Nigerian government announced that deliveries to the company under a separate arrangement were being cut back up to 110,000 barrels a day.
Although details were fuzzy, U.S. sources said a key incident involving an oil tanker may have spurred the Nigerians to take over BP's interests. The incident reportedly occurred a couple of months ago when Nigeria charged that a BP tanker taking on oil at the Nigerian port of Bonny was actually owned by South Africa. The Nigerians pumped all the oil back, and the incident "started BP on a slippery slope," a U.S. official said.
Earlier, in March, an Italian oil tanker was commandeered by Nigerians when they found it has an Israeli crew and had made its last call in Cape Town, South Africa.
Last year Nigeria pulled its assets out of the British bank, Barclays after it was reported that the bank had bought South African defense bonds.
BP's last annual report did not specify the value of subsidiary assets, but said its Middle East and African assets were worth $641 million out of total assets of $21.6 billion. The report said Nigeria was one of BP's four major sources of crude along, with the Middle East, Alaska and the North Sea. Last year Nigeria accounted for 360,000 barrels a day of BP's worldwide sources of 3.7 million barrels a day.