The continued illegal oil bunkering and other related criminal activities in the Niger-Delta have remained a major headache of oil and gas multi-nationals operating in Nigeria with America oil giant, Chevron, practically raising the alarm over the weekend.
According to reports on the incidents by the General Manager, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)/Chevron Nigeria Limited Joint Venture, Mr. Jide Ajide, the spate of criminalities in the area has actually been on the increase since the beginning of 2013.
Ajide’s disheartening report came into focus during the two-day visit of the Flag Officer Commanding, Central Naval Command, Rear Admiral Sidi Usman, to relevant formations in Warri and neighbouring coastal areas that ended at the weekend.
The anxiety expressed by Chevron operations experts and field operators is coming against the backdrop of repeated assurance from security agencies, especially the Joint Task Force (JTF), also known as “Operation Pulo Shield”, that they are working round the clock to stem the tide of oil theft in the region.
Indeed, the JTF which had been undertaking surveillance of the region has continued to claim that that criminalities and illegalities in the creeks of the Niger-Delta had significantly decreased due to its efforts.
However, while briefing Usman and other senior naval functionaries in Warri, the Chevron chief noted that the incalculable damage continued to be done to the Nigerian economy due to the persistent criminalities and illegalities especially in the company’s area of operation.
Ajide, in what appeared like an SOS to the Navy and security agencies, observed that the activities of vandals and illegal local refineries have continued to thrive around the operational area of Chevron at Escravos. He said although the frequency of the theft had dipped about three years ago, at least 43 ruptured points occasioned by illegal bunkering had been uncovered by Chevron’s surveillance team in the course of using helicopter to monitor the field.
He further blamed widespread incidence of pollution and devastation of the ecosystem in the area on the activities oil thieves and illegal refinery operators.
Ajide lamented, “The Joint Task Force (JTF) has been here this year – I don’t know how many times now – I think more than 10 times; but if you go all around us here you’ll see illegal refineries. A number of times the JTF had come to disturb them and burnt down the places, but they devise a new method of starting their operations at night. From 7.00p.m, you’ll see the smoke till morning.
“What has not reduced or which reduced and later came back is oil bunkering. Between 2007 and 2008, they were stealing between 30 and 35,000 barrels of crude oil per day from our pipelines. It later came down with the assistance of security personnel including the JTF. It was brought really down three years ago, but this year, it has gone way back up. So far this year alone, we have uncovered about 12 new bunkering points. Within a year, we have uncovered about 42 or 43 bunkering points. As we try to cut off one, shut down and seal another one, they come up with another.
“Vandalism has not stopped. We experienced it about four times when they vandalized pipes and oil spilled everywhere. Just yesterday (Thursday), they were cutting one up, at the bottom, another. It has been very challenging battling them. We still need additional help to tackle oil bunkering which is not just disrupting our operations and dwindling government’s revenue in the process, but also polluting the environment. Because anywhere they carry out their acts, by the time you fly around, you see oil spilled everywhere. More than 95 oil spillages you see around is being spilled by illegal refineries and bunkering.
“Illegal refineries are all around here. We need your help in any way you can help us to fight this menace because they are polluting the environment and destroying the ecosystem. Without you people helping us and protecting us here, we would not be here by now.”
Ajide however pointed out that although the complicity of some staff of oil companies in the illegal activities has been alleged, the fact remained that technology abounds everywhere today coupled with the fact that the perpetrators might have worked in oil companies.
Meanwhile, Admiral Usman, who barely two weeks ago assumed the position of FOC, Central Naval Command with headquarters in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, has warned oil thieves that it would no longer be business as usual as the Navy was poised to halt the spate of illegal bunkering and other criminal activities in the region undermining the economy of the country.
To arrest the disturbing spate of illegal bunkering ad related crimes in the country, President Goodluck Jonathan had, last week in Abuja, called a meeting of oil and gas stakeholders to rub minds on the way out of the problem, which the president admitted has been punching holes in the nation’s treasury and taking huge toll on the Federation Account.
Information from ThisDay was used in this report.