ABJUA (AFP) – Nigerian officials refused to confirm or deny a report that their country plans to quit the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, promising a statement on Aug 1.

“We are not going to comment on this. There will be a media summit on this issue on Aug 1,” said Emanuel Agbegir, spokesman for the presidential advisor on petroleum, Rilwan Lukman.

OPEC formally denied this morning that Nigeria is set to withdraw from the oil exporters club following a report in the Independent on Sunday saying the country was likely to do so.

Nigeria is the sixth largest exporter of oil in the world, the fifth biggest in OPEC and the biggest in Africa, with production of around 2 million barrels per day.

It regularly exceeds its OPEC quota and is under economic pressure to radically increase production in coming years.

Some US oil industry lobbyists and policy makers have targeted west African oil as a key strategeic interest, hoping that a massive increase in production there could lessen their reliance on the politically unstable Middle East.

The Independent newspaper quoted an unnamed Nigerian source as saying the country could quit the cartel as soon as its annual meetuing in Osaka, Japan, this September.

In a cautionary note, GNI analyst Lawrence Eagles said, “from a practical point of view, such a stance (a split from OPEC) would also appear unlikely as Nigeria has just taken over the OPEC presidency.”

“Also it is well known that Nigeria struggles, perhaps more than any other member, to keep to its quota levels due to the financial demands of its large population,” he added.

Separately, a huge fire broke out Saturday after a lightning strike at the Escravos oil export terminal in the western Niger Delta, but ChevronTexaco claimed that it had been brought under control and that local communities were unaffected.

The blaze has forced the company to shut in around 300,000 barrels per day of production from all offshore lines, said Eagles at GNI.

“The fire is reportedly under control, so the real issue is how quickly the shut in output can be restored,” he added.

Another analyst at ABN Amro said the fire was not being seen by the market as bullish because the terminal has already been down due to a demonstration by Nigerian women which has blocked the loading facility.

However, “if it comes back online, it will be bearish for the market,” he said.