By Joe Ogbodu:
WHAT could be the reason for the proliferation of local illegal refineries in the oil-rich Niger Delta region?
Could the be a result of inefficiency of the Federal Government-owned mechanised refineries in the country or just illicit provision by illegal oil bunkerers to enhance their trade?
These are some of the questions security agents were yet to unravel as them reawakened the fight against illegal oil ‘refineries’ in the Niger Delta.
Investigations, however, showed that some unscrupulous elements suspected to be dealers in petroleum products with intent to spend less and gain more, owing to the poor performance of the state government-owned Kaduna, Warri and Port-Harcourt refineries, are alleged sponsors of illegal local ‘refineries’ located in a marshy forest in swampy creek of the Niger Delta.
Security sources disclosed that the crude oil is allegedly stolen from burst oil pipelines in the region operated by oil giants, Shell and Chevron.
After this, the dealers who had formed themselves into a ‘cabal’ perpetrating illegal oil bunkering in the region, would employ the services of some local people to process the crude oil into finished products.
The ‘local refineries’ are mainly sited at the river banks and scattered around small towns from where the illegal oil bunkerers burn the crude oil into finished petroleum products.
The bunkerers, security sources claimed, know the network of pipelines in the region and site their ‘local refineries’ near rivers in some settlements where they can easily load the products unhindered.
The local refineries are contraptions made from metal drums heated beneath a pile of red earth with iron tubing connecting receptor drums for the finished products mostly diesel and dual purpose kerosene.
It was learnt that some of the local handlers also refine fuel from the local refineries.
They use crude technologies that did not meet industrial standards.
The petrol refined through this method is sold as ‘Asari’ fuel used to mix other products gotten from mechanised government-owned refineries across the country.
Our sources further disclosed that some of the handlers sell the finish products directly to the public. These refined petroleum products can cause damage to car engines which leads to malfunction.
One of the sources said: “They use tankers and engine boats to convey the finished products to the open markets.
“Some alleged filling station owners (marketers) directly patronise the illegal refinery operators for finished products which they use to mix products they got from the Petroleum Product Marketing Company (PPMC) or at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) depot.”
But speaking on the rise of illegal local ‘refineries’ in the country, Deputy National President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief John Ossai, tasked the NNPC to brace up to the challenge posed by operators of illegal local ‘refineries’ in the Niger Delta.
He said the corporation must resuscitate the country’s refineries which are currently working below capacity.
Ossai said PTD had nothing to do with illegal ‘refineries’ but had something to do with conveying of petroleum product.
He said: “Illegal refineries or not, I think we have our own area of jurisdiction and refining of petroleum product is not part of it. Our own area of jurisdiction is to distribute petroleum products. Talking about illegal refineries, I think we are stepping into the boundary of NNPC because it is the corporation’s duty to go about tackling this menace of illegal refineries.
“Operators of illegal refineries are challenging NNPC. But one thing that is certain is that if our refineries are in order, nobody would leave refinery products to buy illegal refinery products.”
The NNPC Group Managing Director, Sanusi Barkindo, had disclosed in a two-day series of presentations made separately to the Inspector General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo and the Chief of Defense Staff, in Abuja that pipeline vandals have complicated the free flow of petroleum products and crude supply in the corporation’s pipeline system.
Corroborating him, the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of the NNPC, Dr Levi Ajuonuma, said in a statement that illegal bunkering, pipeline vandalism and product theft had “massively impacted on the capacity of Nigeria’s massive oil and gas assets to function optimally.”
The NNPC’s helmsman explained that though the combined working capacity of all the 21 PPMC depots nationwide, excluding holding capacities at the refineries, can provide products sufficiency of up to 32 days for petrol, 65 days for kerosene and 42 days for diesel, the activities of the pipeline vandals have made it impossible for the facilities to function at full capacity.
“A total of 16,083 pipeline breaks,” Barkindo said, “were recorded within the last 10 years,” adding that, “while 398 pipeline breaks representing 2.4 per cent were due to ruptures, the activities of vandals accounted for 15,685 breaks which translate to about 97.5 per cent of the total number of cases.”
The System 2E/2EX, which conveys products from the Port Harcourt Refinery to Aba – Enugu – Makurdi depots onwards to Yola – Enugu – Auchi, Barkindo continued, “appears to be the haven of pipeline vandalism in the country, particularly the Port Harcourt Aba/Isiala-Ngwa axis.”
He added: “In all, 8,105 breaks were recorded along the system 2E within the period representing about 50.3 per cent of the total number of petroleum products pipeline breaks in the country. The attacks left the NNPC with a cost of N78.15 billion in product losses and pipeline repairs.
“The System 2A product pipeline route which conveys products from Warri – Benin – Suleja/Ore depots ranks second on the scale of pipeline break points with 3,259 cases representing about 20.2 per cent of the total volume of products pipeline breaks in Nigeria. The figure also came with a loss of over N20.39 billion in products and pipeline repairs.
“The System 2B which carries products from the Atlas Cove-Mosimi – Satelite – Ibadan – Ilorin depots recorded 2,440 breaks leading to a loss of over N73.6 billion in products and pipeline repairs.”
At one of the local illegal refineries site in the Niger Delta, the local handlers’ codename each localised ‘refinery’ with a nickname and tagged it as petroleum dispenses ‘company’.
There, they have all the paraphernalia of a local makeshift ‘refineries’ used for the illicit trade, including kitchen utensils. Five outboard engine boats, seven pumping machines, a welding machine and engine-saw were among the items seen at the site and recovered by the JTF in a renewed clampdown on the trade in Delta State.
The local handlers even go along with food stuffs and take their meal and bath right in the scene of the nefarious trade. This shows that they even place surveillance around their products until they are conveyed via engine boats or tankers to the open market.
In a recent swooped on the ‘local illegal refineries’ at Gbekebor, Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, the JTF discovered three large wooden boats used as “local barges” for transporting crude to the huddled refineries built in a makeshift settlement.
Fifty 10,000-litre capacity plastic tankers, hundreds of drums, jerrycans, pipes and hoses as well as shed for the refining units and furnaces were seen and later destroyed during the operation.
The refining of the crude, according to sources, takes the local handlers two to three days after which they fill them into rubber and metal drums for ‘tran-loading’ into final destination.
Indeed, it was a spectacular sight to behold as the soldiers swooped on the local refineries spread over five kilometres at the banks of the Burutu River.
The troops set the “refineries” on fire after using battle axe and cutlasses left at the scene to cut down the sheds and punch the drums and gallon of abandoned products.
The thickness of the smoke from the burning fire formed a cloud in the sky; alerting the villagers that something was amiss in the forest near their homes.
It was preceded by the escape of five suspected oil thieves towing a large wooden boat carrying undisclosed quantity of stolen crude oil. As soon as the thieves sighted the military gunboats, they escaped with the two Passport 19 type boats with which they were towing the large boat.
Six of them were unlucky as they were caught a day after in the act and were paraded over in Warri, Delta State.
In recent time, none of the local handlers of the local refineries, including their sponsors was caught by the JTF troops. They often escape before the arrival of the patrol troops.
Their escape is linked to report that some soldiers who allegedly had monetary bargain with the bunkerers often leak intelligence report of the task force.
But the arrest of the six suspects, according to the JTF Sector One Commander, Colonel Jamil Sarham, was sequel to the fact that the task force had maintain zero tolerance for illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta.
He said the clampdown was achieved during ‘recognisance operation’ by troops of the task force.
Sarham disclosed that the raids were authorised by the JTF Commander, Major-General Sarkin Yaki Bello, “who has zero tolerance for illegal refineries in the Niger Delta.”
“The fight against illegal refinries is ongoing and the JTF wants to maintain a zero tolerance for illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta,” Sarham added.
While parading the suspects before newsmen, Sarham noted that the mushrooming of illegal refineries tended “to encourage the crime of illegal bunkering and other crimes.”
He gave the names of the suspects as Frank Ayabutu, Raymond Biloromo, Francis Okoro, Omevere Kporotu, David Ajor and Ogene Kemu.
Sarham said the, “JTF has made a lot of deployment on major pipelines. That way, we have taken the fight to the source of the illegal crude used in the local refineries, and we want to stress that illegality does not pay.”
He, however, noted that there had been a drastic reduction in the overall number of such illegal refineries, despite the apparent spirited efforts by the criminals to relocate and build new ones less than one year after about 500 local refineries were destroyed by the JTF in Delta State alone.
Gbekebor, where the bunkerers had erected over 500 of such local refineries, is a small village in the Burutu councilof Delta State.
The villagers have deserted their homes for fear of possible arrest. Some said they were not aware of the trade by the bunkerers while others are some of local handlers of the refineries and party to the trade.
The locals, apart from being exposed to the danger of fire outbreak from the refineries in case of eventuality, one other thing that stares them in the face is the environmental despoliation and pollution not by multinationals but by their own people handling the illegal refineries.
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