Shell has evacuated around 330 workers from four sites in the Niger delta area of Nigeria following a gunboat attack.In a related story, corn farming prospects are looking up as more ethanol may be needed to supplement gasoline:
Gunmen fought Nigerian soldiers on Sunday as they overran the Benisede pumping station near the port of Warri.
Five Shell workers were injured and there are unconfirmed reports that some soldiers and gunmen died in the attack.
The evacuations from Benisede and three other pumping stations will not affect production, already halted because of a pipeline attack last Wednesday.
The latest attack helped put upward pressure on oil prices, with markets already worried about the nuclear standoff involving Iran, the world's fourth largest crude oil exporter.
"We're leaning more toward corn," said Garold Den Herder, a farmer who cultivates 2,400 acres in a combination of corn and soybeans and is on the board of directors of the Siouxland Energy and Livestock Cooperative, which opened an ethanol plant here in late 2001. Last year a bushel was selling for about $2 here, but near the plant it was about 10 cents higher.Watch out for the cartel of PONE (Producers of New Energy)...
Farmers expect it to go higher soon if oil prices stay high. Ethanol was up to $1.75 a gallon, last year, from just over $1 the year before.
The rising corn prices may be good news for farmers, but they are worrying some food planners.
"We're putting the supermarket in competition with the corner filling station for the output of the farm," said Lester R. Brown, an agriculture expert in Washington, D.C., and president of the Earth Policy Institute. Farms cannot feed all the world's people and its motor vehicles as well, Mr. Brown said, and the result is that more people will go hungry.
Others say that the price of goods that have corn as an ingredient, including foods like potato chips or Danish pastries, will rise.
But Robert C. Brown, a professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University and a specialist in agricultural engineering, said the use of corn for nonfood purposes sounded harsher than it was. "The impression is that we're taking food out of the mouths of babes," Professor Brown said. In fact, corn grown in Iowa is used mostly to feed farm animals or make corn syrup for processed foods.
And Bernie Punt, the general manager of the Siouxland plant, said, "It's not as big a loss as what it seems like," pointing out that the corn remnants that come out of the other end of the plant were used for animal feed...
..."I do not just expect somewhat higher food prices, but new instability as well," he said in an interview. "In the future, instability of energy prices will be translated into instability in food prices."
Gustavo Best, the energy coordinator at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, said growing crops for energy could provide new opportunities for small farmers around the world and finance the development of roads and other valuable infrastructure in poor rural areas.
But, Mr. Best added, "definitely there is a danger that the competition can hit food security and food availability."
Some experts scoff at the idea of corn shortages, but others say it is possible. Wendy K. Wintersteen, the dean of the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University, said that possibly as early as this summer, "we will have areas of the state we would call corn deficient," because there will not be enough for livestock feed - the biggest use of corn here - and ethanol plants.