A few dozen women closed down a small plant known as a flow station run by Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary on Thursday after the firm stopped them from using burning gas at the facility to dry tapioca, a food made of shredded cassava.

The protest, the latest challenge to oil majors in the volatile Niger Delta, indictaes mounting discontent in the oil-rich but impoverished Delta, where outbreaks of ethnic violence have increased sharply in the past month along with rising incidents of kidnapping oil workers. 

Lucky Ogodo, spokeswoman for a few dozen protesters at the Amukpe flow station, said more than 200 women took over the plant on 7 July to express their anger.

The women are sleeping in what were once offices used by oil workers. The women said they met Shell representatives on Tuesday for talks but made little progress, saying they would carry on protesting until they are given an oven in which they can dry all their cassava or 30 million Naira ($234,500).

Neglect

Women had been drying cassava, a Nigerian staple, at the plant for years and accused Shell of neglecting local communities.

Like other Delta activists, Ogodo said gas-flaring, the burning off of gases associated with crude production, hurt farming.

Shell has made a point of defending itself from such criticism in Nigeria, saying that it is working to end gas-flaring and publicising its role in community development.

The company declined to comment on the protest. It was not clear why they had decided to stop the women from using their plant.

This is not the first time Niger Delta women have demonstrated against oil multinationals using gas-flaring methods.

In August 2002 about 3,000 women protested against Shell and ChevronTexaco urging the oil giants to pay compensation for polluting the environment. They have also launched sieges against flow stations.