THE disclosure by the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, that the ministry has developed an indigenous biotechnology centre that is capable of detecting stolen crude oil products in the Niger Delta region is cheering. The technology is expected to considerably curb oil theft in the area.
Dr. Onu, who made the revelation at the inauguration of the Advanced Bio-resources Laboratory and Livestock Feed Milling Complex at Odi, Bayelsa State, explained that the new facility would help security agents to detect crude oil theft anywhere in the country. The laboratory will also be used to conduct genetic profiles of the nation’s rich plant and animal resources, with a view to preserving them.
We commend the scientists who developed this centre for providing a solution to the problem of oil theft which has caused the nation huge revenue losses. Crude oil theft is economic sabotage perpetrated mostly by high-profile individuals and groups at the detriment of the economy. Though oil theft is common in both developed and developing oil-producing countries, it has become one of the biggest illicit businesses in our Niger Delta region. Oil theft leads to the loss of billions of dollars every year. It also causes loss of lives due to safety breaches such as pipeline vandalism, explosions and contamination of the environment when there are oil spillages.
Statistics show that Nigeria loses about 250,000 barrels of crude oil per day to oil thieves. This is said to amount to about $25 million daily in revenue leakage. For instance, in 2013, Shell Petroleum Development Company claimed that the country was losing an average of $1.6 billion annually to oil theft. This problem may have forced the oil giant to shut down its Nembe Creek Trunk Line in Bayelsa State, which used to produce about 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day, and declare a force majeure on Bonny Light export.
This indigenous oil theft detection system deserves the support of government and allied agencies. It is not yet clear how the system will work, but we urge that it should be made error-free and tamper-proof. That is why the Minister’s call on the researchers to focus more on market-driven research and development should be heeded. The laboratory of the Ministry of Science and Technology should live up to its mandate as a catalyst for the promotion, coordination and deployment of cutting-edge research in our development processes.
We advise the Ministry of Science and Technology to study anti-oil theft devices used in other countries and see what it can borrow from them to improve this indigenous biotechnology. We have in mind such anti-theft intelligence equipment like the Internet of Things (IoT), the Battery-Powered Pressure Data Logger, the International Atmos Portable Data Logger for leaks and theft, and the Atmos Hydrostatic Tester. These are all anti-oil theft systems that can be effectively used to identify pipeline leaks and vandalism.
Overall, this home-grown system for checking oil theft is a comforting sign that Nigerian scientists are looking inwards. They must, however, ensure that the system is not sabotaged. Let the security agencies watch out for intending saboteurs of this system. There is also still much to be done.
Insecurity is one of the major reasons Nigeria is losing so much oil revenue to thieves. Necessary precautions should be taken to ensure that this technology is used to achieve the intended objective of ending crude oil theft in the country.