Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Shortly after he assumed office as the Minister of State Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva made it clear that reducing crude oil loss especially through oil theft is one of the priorities of the Federal Government. This captured the mood of stakeholders in the oil industry as the stealing of crude oil has reached an alarming state despite concerted efforts to stop it.
The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in a recent report estimated that $41.9 billion worth of crude oil was lost to theft and refined crude in the last nine years. The breakdown indicated that out of this amount $38.5 billion worth of crude oil was stolen.
Governor Godwin Obaseki who chairs the National Economic Council Committee saddled with the responsibility to find a lasting solution to crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism disclosed that between January and June 2019, ‘we lost 22.6 million barrels of crude oil at an estimated cost of about $1.3 billion. These losses occurred specifically in the Nembe trunk line; we lost 9.2 million barrels in the Trans Niger pipeline; we lost 8.6 million barrels; and in the Trans Forcados pipeline 3.9 million barrels.”
Victor Okorokwo, Managing Director, Aiteo, said: “One of the biggest challenges we face in our operations is the security of our pipelines and oil facilities. Our pipelines and flow lines are constantly vandalised by unscrupulous elements tagged crude oil thieves. Despite efforts in raising Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) uptime from 60 per cent to over 80 per cent since acquisition, we have recorded more shutdown days in operations due to third party infractions for over two months this year compared to previous years. This has resulted in loss of revenue and deferments estimated at about four million barrels this year. Also worrying is the amount of crude loss recorded even when the pipeline is operational, usually in the range of 25 to 35 per cent.”
While Darlon Security and Guards was able to safeguard the pipelines largely in Southern Ijaw Local Government, Ekeremor and parts of Yenagoa of Bayelsa State, Labrador Security outfit handling pipeline protection from Nembe extending to Bonny recorded success.
In April 2019, a major fire incident triggered by crude oil thieves at the NCTL forced Aiteo to declare force majeure. Investigations revealed that Labrador surveillance team discovered the sabotage and immediately alerted security operatives. “The Labrador team heard suspicious noises and were investigating the noise when they heard a loud bang. On getting to the scene two dead bodies were seen. They were told by people later that five people with severe burns were seen at the waterside,” said a security source.
“Before the April incident, the NCTL had enjoyed a smooth operations due to diligence of the surveillance team and security operatives which immediately that the fire incident may have occurred through third party interference,” Mr Legemo Andrew, oil industry expert monitoring the success of surveillance teams said.
In May 2019, the security outfit in Bille Kingdom of Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State, Labrador, in a joint night patrol with operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Joint Task Force of the at Cowthrone Channel 1, Creek 6 and Adamkri discovered 13 dug-out boats and set them ablaze. Eight suspected crude oil thieves were also arrested.
In June, Labrador intensified scouting of illegal bunkering activities and oil theft in fulfilment of its mandate to curb recent losses by Aiteo uncovered two mega barges fully loaded with crude oil and two dug-out boats also loaded with crude oil. The latter was immediately set ablaze.
In September, Labrador during a surveillance patrol carried out with operatives of JTF and NSCDC on strategic areas of AITEO pipelines prone to illegal bunkering activities at Ijawkiri in Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State uncovered and set ablaze four camps while a barge MV Wisdom was also set ablaze. In the same September in Alakiri axis of Okirika, two mega barges containing illegal diesel and crude oil were discovered and moved to Bille. Four mega clusters were also discovered and destroyed.
Okorokwo is worried: “A recurring question is what has happened to the suspects arrested in connection with oil theft in the Nigeria. More worrying is that even when the perpetrators of these acts are caught and handed over to security agencies, we are yet to witness any convictions. Aiteo operates the NCTL which also serves 4 other Oil companies (Eroton, Newcross, Belema Oil and Shell) injecting into the pipeline, hence, when there are infractions on the line, these companies are also forced to shut-down; resulting in economic losses for these companies also and the Federal Government by and large.”
Obaseki advocated establishment of special courts and training of judges to prosecute and convict those found guilty so that it would serve as deterrence to others. However, getting to the point of conviction is the hardest part.
Mr Morris Alagoa, Programme Officer, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of The Earth (ERA/FoE), believes the fight against crude oil theft is complicated because of the number of people involved: “While the military may have tried in reducing the illegal act; the rumour mill has it that some military personnel also have their own local refinery camps.
“Apart from engagement of these military personnel to guard oil facilities and related facilities, the military cannot be completely absolved from culpability. For instance, there are instances where illegal oil bunkering activities would be happening not far from where security agencies are stationed.
“The oil theft from the pipeline at the creeks is little when compared to the one that happens at the oil terminals. Again we should note the fact that the major oil theft is happening at the export terminals and this involves security agencies, NNPC, Oil companies. They undeclared exported quantities of crude oil, so this makes whatever oil theft in the creeks a child’s play.”