Navy destroys 347 illegal refineries in five months
As crude oil theft and illegal refining continue in the Niger Delta region, the Nigerian Navy says it has destroyed no fewer than 347 illegal refineries in the last five months.
It stated that the proliferation of illegal refineries had been an enabler of crude oil theft because access to crude supply through vandalism of pipelines had kept the illegal artisanal refineries alive.
Speaking during a visit to Punch Nigeria Limited, the Director of Information at the Naval Headquarters, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, noted that host communities, traditional rulers and other leaders in the region had a role to play in the reorientation of the perpetrators, especially young people. He said the menace posed serious danger to the environment and was impacting negatively on the country’s revenue.
With about 400,000 barrels of crude oil said to be stolen daily, the rate of oil theft in the country has been described by many persons and organisations as economic sabotage, given the way it erodes the country’s revenue from crude oil export, the mainstay of the country’s economy. Owing to the menace, Nigeria has been unable to meet its quota as allocated by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
While OPEC increased the country’s crude oil output quota from 1.799 million barrels per day in July 2022 to 1.826 million barrels per day in August from a peak of 2.4 million bpd previously, the country’s oil production dropped from 1,083,899 bpd in July to 972,394 bpd in August.
On account of the dwindling revenue fuelled by the low oil production, Nigeria has resorted to frequent borrowings, with the country’s debt stock standing at over N41tn, a development that has fuelled concerns by many citizens and organisations.
Ayo-Vaughan explained, “Since Operation Dakatar de Barawo commenced on April 1, 2022, the illegal refining sites that we have destroyed so far are 347, and we have arrested 143 suspects till date. The perpetrators are usually locals recruited by the main perpetrators in the crime and the proliferation of the illegal refining sites is in many ways fuelling the theft because it’s like a symbiotic relationship.
“Access to oil supply through pipeline vandalism keeps the illegal artisanal refineries alive.”
Meanwhile, speaking on reports that about 400,000 barrels of crude oil were being stolen daily, Ayo-Vaughan said it was impossible for such to be stolen through the Nigerian waters every day.
He stated, “Yes, we have the challenge of crude oil theft, but there has been a lot of wrong information in the media, particularly in the electronic media. I think the narrative has changed from 400,000 barrels to 100,000 barrels. Recently, the Managing Director of Agip Oil Company and the MD of Total met separately with the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, at the naval headquarters to interact with him.
“At one time, reports said it was 400,000 bpd. But if you look at what 400,000 barrels translate to, it’s a lot. I know a barrel is about 158.9 litres. So, 100,000 barrels translate to about 15.8 million litres. That is for 100,000 barrels only. The normal tanker takes between 30,000 and 60,000 litres. There is no tanker that takes more than 80,000 litres.
“When you want to move out that quantity of crude, there are no pipelines that run beyond the terminals as we speak. So, the only place this theft can take place is at the terminals and within the creeks where people can vandalise the pipelines. The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (Mele Kyari) said they even discovered that some people siphon the oil and store it in churches and mosques. That’s from their local intelligence.
“People siphon this crude and supply the illegal refineries. The first issue; if you are saying Nigeria loses about 100,000 barrels per day, which translates to about 15 million litres; for you to lift that quantity of oil, you need to have perhaps a five-tonne barge that will have to go about 3,000-plus trips a day to the high sea. The movement of 3,000 barges cannot take place like that.”
He said the navy was not the only security agency in the creeks, adding that there were soldiers, personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and marine police.
The naval spokesman stated, “Are we saying all these people will allow the movement of 3,000 barges in one day, not to talk of two days, one week or a month? Honestly, it is practically impossible.
“That is my opinion and that is the stand of the navy; that to move 3,000 barges in a day to convey 100,000 barrels is practically impossible.”
When asked where the shortage could be coming from, he said it would be the illegal refiners.
He added, “What it means is that whatever is stolen in the creeks is used to supply the local illegal refineries and the navy has been hard on the operators of those refineries. Some of the things we hear as losses or thefts are actually the inability to transport the crude from the point of exploration through the pipelines.
“There is a pipeline called the Trans-Niger pipeline. One of the heads of international oil companies said for a long time they had to shut down that pipeline because they found that when they open it, what gets to the terminal or what gets to the destination was not what was released, so there is a lot of stealing.
“This brings the aspect of the will and persuasion of the political leaders in the Niger Delta to talk to their people. Apart from the loss, the environmental impact is huge; there are some areas where 10 to 15 acres of land are burnt and vegetation is gone.”
He attributed air pollution in the region largely to the activities of illegal refiners, saying the illegal activity informed why the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, led a team to destroy some illegal refineries in some parts of the state; while onshore, the navy was doing everything it could.
Ayo-Vaughan also called on international oil companies to always seal the oil wells that were no longer commercially viable, saying the neglect of such oil wells was attracting illegal refiners.
He added, “There is the aspect of the political leaders and the International Oil Companies. The IOCs are the ones that drill the oil wells. When the oil wells are no longer commercially viable, according to international best practices, you are to seal them, but it’s not that the wells are dry. Those wells have not been sealed and we have identified them in the creeks.
“When they don’t seal the oil wells, they are a source for the illegal artisanal refiners. So, there are many sides to it. The Chief of Naval Staff engages regularly with the NNPCL GMD so that as a regulatory body, they compel the IOCs to do the needful. The navy also has put in place checks to identify any person that compromises or becomes complacent in any way.”
He explained that there were about 3,000 creeks in Delta State and that the locals, using their knowledge of the area more than the security agents, were the ones siphoning the fuel.
The naval spokesman called on members of the public to report any naval officer caught engaging in such an illegality.
“We welcome any report of compromise or involvement of our personnel with facts, so that the authorities can do the needful,” he added.
‘N30bn products destroyed’
The navy also disclosed that since it launched the Operation Dakata Da Barau, which means ‘Stop the thieves’ in Hausa language, progress had been made and that products worth billions of naira had been confiscated.
Ayo-Vaughan stated, “There is the problem of onshore pipeline vandalism and siphoning of oil, which the navy has been combating and fighting. On April 1, Operation Dakata Da Barau was launched in collaboration with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited to curb crude oil theft. It is a very big problem in the Niger Delta.
“But be that as it may, the navy is fully mobilised to ensure that operators of artisanal illegal refineries do not succeed in polluting the environment and depriving the nation of resources that should accrue to the Federal Government. In the last five to six months, products worth over N30bn have been seized from these people, denying them those resources for which they would have even expanded their businesses and used for other criminalities.”
The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria had on Thursday commenced a protest to draw the attention of the government to the scale of crude oil theft in the country. Members threatened to halt operations if nothing was done to arrest the menace.
Theft huge – IPMAN
Commenting on the menace of oil theft, the National Public Relations Officer, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Chief Ukadike Chinedu, told one of our correspondents that though there was no accurate data on oil theft, the volume of crude stolen from the country was huge.
He said, “On the quantity of oil being stolen from Nigeria, the various figures you see are all estimated figures. There is no accurate gauge to measure the volume of crude oil being stolen in this country, because we don’t have a standard measuring system.
“Also, I don’t know if there is any forensic investigation that has been conducted by any of our institutions, whether by PENGASSAN or the NUPRC (Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission) on this matter because we don’t know of such.
“So these figures are all estimated quotations by the various stakeholders and individuals, and therefore, IPMAN will not align with these numbers.’’
He said Nigeria was losing a lot of revenue from oil theft and that stakeholders were unhappy with the way the cartel involved was handling the matter.
“It is therefore pertinent that the Federal Government should come out with a standard measuring instrument that will give the exact number of daily production, export data and the amount being reserved as well as what we channel for local use,” Chinedu added.
The Chairman, Rivers State Civil Society Organisation, Enefaa Georgewill, said even though there were local collaborators, the major perpetrators of illegal oil bunkering had always been the people in government and their internal collaborators.
He said, “We were all in this country when an oil vessel under former President Olusegun Obasanjo was intercepted. Till today, that ship laden with stolen crude disappeared. That was the one we saw. We won’t pretend that there are no local collaborators, but they are very minute compared to the ones by international collaborators, the military and those in government.
“Secondly, the people are pauperised and cheated. No job, nothing is working and some of them feel we have these things in our backyard. Man must survive, so the local people had to resort to self help.”
Similarly, an environmentalist and Executive Director, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, Fyneface Dumnamene, said it was wrong to say illegal oil bunkering or illegal artisanal crude oil refining was peculiar to the Niger Delta.
“It is something that Nigerians from all parts of the country are involved in. If you visit an artisanal refining site in the Niger Delta, you will find people from all other ethnic groups there. Besides, they come to the Niger Delta and smuggle oil to other parts of the country to refine. So, it is a collective responsibility,” he said.
Speaking on the way forward, Dumnamene said, “The surest way to end illegal oil bunkering in this region is for the government to find alternative livelihood opportunities for youths who are involved in the trade. By this, we need to talk about the modular refineries that the presidency talked about in 2017.
“We also need to legalise artisanal crude oil refining. Sell crude oil to them and they can refine under a framework that is more environmentally friendly. Another thing that can help is the industrial park Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo talked about. It will help to engage many youths.”