Oil Pipeline Vandalism: What We Lost

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As Nigeria is slipping deeper into the valley of insecurity, much of the momentum for economic breakthrough has been lost, in large part because of the increasing rate of oil theft, illegal bunkering and reckless vandalisation of pipelines across the country.
The consequences of NNPC pipeline vandalism are horrible, which in most cases caused explosions and fires, eventually leading to loss of lives and properties massively.

Given such grim news of pipeline explosions due to activities of vandals, miscreants and hoodlums over the years, it is all too easy to consider that government initiatives to protect pipelines with deployment of security agencies, at best had been ineffectual, and at worst, had actually exacerbated the woes that the intervention was meant to address.

Between $6 billion and $12 billion are estimated to have been lost annually to oil theft, while over 20,000 persons were killed, many burnt beyond recognition and properties worth billions of naira destroyed in the last 30 years as a result of pipeline explosions.

Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association, PENGASSAN President, Mr. Babatunde Ogun had decried the situation of alarming rate of crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism saying these were, “becoming scandalous and a national embarrassment that needed drastic solution.”

He lamented that, despite the presence of the JTF, to combat illegal bunkering, granting the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, power to bear arms to combat product pipeline vandalisation, the practice has continued not only unabated but brazenly. “Our security forces have been unable to arrest this unwholesome practice as attested to by the running battle they keep having in Arepo, Ogun State for example over product pipeline vandalism.”

According to the PENGASSAN President, Nigeria loses $6 billion annually to crude oil theft, and also lost N105 billion to theft of refined products.

“This is a threat to our national security and our democracy. If this kind of huge amount gets into the wrong hands, it can destabilise our democracy and national security.”

Apart from the Joint Task Force comprised mainly of the military previously combating the Niger Delta militants in the creeks disrupting NNPC pipelines which hitherto adversely affected Nigeria’s crude oil production, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, having the statutory responsibility to watch pipelines and arrest vandals, the Inspector-General of Police Special task force on Anti-Pipeline Vandalism also charged with protection of oil pipelines, there are also surveillance outfits with multi-billion naira contracts awarded by Federal government to selected former Niger Delta militant leaders for the protection of pipelines and check destruction of oil facilities.

Both the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar and the Commandant General, NSCDC, Dr. Ade Abolurin, have expressed strong determination to stop oil pipeline vandalism. However, the recent confrontation between operatives of NSCDC and Police at an area in Ikorodu over arrest of suspected pipeline vandals, pointed to lack of synergy and co-ordinated approach in the fight against these vandals and oil thieves. Two of the NSCDC men were said to have lost their lives in the confrontation between these two security agencies supposed to watch over the pipelines.

Investigation showed the operational sophistication of the vandals not unmindful of the danger of fire outbreak imminent during pipeline vandalisation. Activities of vandals and oil thieves led to shut down by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nembe Creek Trunk Line where an estimated 60,000 barrels per day of crude oil were stolen.

An oil spill recently occurred at Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production company (SNEPCO) Bonga field off the Coast of Delta and Bayelsa states precisely on December 20, 2011. This was caused by a rapture of an export hose which poured an estimated 40,000 barrels of crude oil across 950 square kilometres of water, thereby affecting the environment and the livelihood of the communities in the area.

The MD of SNEPCO, Mr. Chike Onyekekwe was reported saying that the company has always adhered to the regulations in the sector and that the cause of the accident was still being investigated. But both the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Management Agency (NIMASA) have asked SNEPCO to pay a total of $11.5 billion as administrative charges for the spill. Agip has suspended oil production in Bayelsa State where 60 per cent of its production of about 90,000 barrels per day were stolen.

Furthermore, Italian firm, ENI shut down its activities in the swampy oil fields in Bayelsa. In a statement, ENI attributed the frequent spills to oil theft by vandals and so decided to shut down operations to prevent further damage to the environment.

Operating in Nigeria as Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC), it authorised suspension of operations on March 22, 2013 and declared Force Majeure on its oil output.

Force Majeure is a legal notice that absolves an oil company of liabilities for failure to meet supply obligations to crude buyers because of circumstances beyond its control. Between march 21 and 22, 2013, ENI declared force majeure and ordered closure of its on-shore activities in Bayelsa State.

According to Saturday Vanguard investigation, the most serious oil pipeline explosion occurred in Jesse community of Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State on October 18, 1998. The Federal Government blamed vandals/scavengers who intentionally ruptured the pipeline with their tools and ignited the fire.

Others attributed the explosion to poorly maintained pipelines. A pipe burst and the local people rushed to collect spilled petrol as fuel flowed freely to the farms and into the Ethiope River. Due to the massive rush to siphon petrol, fire was ignited and about 2,000 lives were lost in what was described as the “worst pipeline explosion in Nigeria.” It took about five days to put off the fire with foreign assistance. The pipeline is owned by NNPC taking crude oil to Warri and Kaduna refineries. Many persons were burnt beyond recognition while most of the dead were given mass burial.

Thereafter, other NNPC pipeline explosions occurred in subsequent years at Ovwore-Amukpe Okpe community; Ijegun pipeline fire in Lagos, the Ilado village NNPC pipeline fire, caused by vandalisation, the Abule Egba pipeline explosion in a Lagos suburb which killed over 2000 people. In that case, vandals had been siphoning petrol from punctured pipelines for three days before the explosion occurred on December 26, 2006. The pipeline runs through the village via Ipaja to Ejigbo. Before the tragedy, NNPC had received reports of vandalism and instructed police to patrol the area. The rest is now history.

There had been pipeline explosions in Warri, Ebute, Umuahia and other places including the most recent in Arepo in which put together, unestimated number of persons lost their lives.

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