Chika Amanze-Nwachukuwrites that strict compliance with Safety Standards is essential for preventing fire incidents at petroleum depots
Penultimate weekend, the loading gantry of Aiteo Energy’s depot was engulfed in an inferno, which resulted in the death of one person.
The fire, which erupted at about 12.30 am that fateful day was put out almost four hours later, following the intervention of officials of Lagos State Fire Service and the nearby Nigerian Independent Petroleum Company.
The oil marketing firm’s loading bay, where petroleum products are loaded into tankers was damaged in the fire incident, which came barely three weeks after a similar fire that gutted the MRS Oil and Gas Limited’s Barge at the company’s main depot in Tin Can Island area of Lagos.
In 2007, the loading gantry of Folawiyo Energy’s depot, also located in Apapa, was almost completely razed in an inferno that was triggered off when a tanker was loading Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) at the depot.
Several of such incidents were recorded last year at some depots in the same Apapa area, which houses virtually all the petroleum depots of major and independent oil marketers. The large concentration of oil tank farms in the area, results in unending traffic gridlocks, occasioned by long queues of petroleum tankers waiting to load petroleum products at the depots.
Besides, the high concentration of oil facilities in the area makes it prone to fire outbreaks and environmental pollutions. This is partly because most of the firms do not adhere to safety standards recommended by regulatory authorities.
The Nigerian environmental laws provide inter alia that companies thatengage in business activities in both the upstream and downstream sectors of the petroleum industry shall comply with all environmental health and safety laws, regulations, guidelines or directives. Such companies are required by law to conduct their operations in accordance with internationally accepted principles of sustainable development.
Directives by DPR
To prevent recurrent fire incidents, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), regulator of oil and gas industry activities, recently issued a directive to oil marketing companies to put in place sufficient safety equipment of internationally approved standards andto make available at every installation of natural gas or petroleum products station, fire fighting and first aid equipment in accordance with good operating practice.
But getting the operators to comply with these relevant environmental policies in their operating environments, has been a major challenge confronting safety managers in the oil and gas industry. Inadequate firefighting equipment or the lack of it has been the bane of attaining to fire emergencies in the industry.
A DPR source, who admitted the challenges faced by the agency in enforcing the environmental laws, said some of the depots in Nigeria could not meet the standards of ordinary filling station and also do not have a single firefighting truck to attend to emergencies.
In 2010, the House of Representatives Committee on Downstream, chaired by Hon. Clever Ikisikpo, had during an inspection of depots and tank farms in Lagos, observed that most of the facilities were in deplorable condition and could not meet the standards for retail stations.
The committee embarked on the tour, following a motion before the sixth assembly, that some tank farms and depots were wrongly situated, while others were not complying with recommended safety standards.
In the course of the oversight visit, the lawmakers also discovered that some of the facilities were situated either near residential areas; schools; military and police barracks or other sensitive areas not approved by relevant environmental laws and regulations.
At the end of the exercise, the committee had resolved to recommend appropriate sanctions against the “ancient facilities” that posed health risks and recommendation of those that were wrongly situated.
Ikisikpo said: “We will sit down and write our report based on what we saw. You can’t even go into some of these ancient tank farms that we saw. We are even wondering what the Lagos State government is doing with its environmental laws, when you cannot even go into a tank farm. Those of us who are not from the riverine areas could not even go in for fear of getting drowned”.
Also, last year, the current House Committee Chairman, Downstream, Hon. Dakuku Peterside, and his team had embarked on a similar exercise, and after an inspection of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC’s) Ejigbo Satellite Depot and other private tank farms in Lagos, concluded that most of the assets were in deplorable states. The team had noted that facilities that belong to private companies appeared well-managed and maintained than government’s assets and vowed to recommend that some of those government’s assets be taken over by the private sector.
Relocation as Solution?
Stakeholders in the oil and gas industry had over the years enjoined the federal Government to relocate the tank farms from Apapa axis to make the area less prone to fire incidents.
In 2007, former Energy Minister, Dr. Edmund Daukoru, had during an assessment of the extent of damage caused by the fire incident at Folawiyo depot, announced that the Federal Government was planning to decongest the Apapa petroleum depot in order to make the area less prone to fire outbreaks.
He observed that the area was congested and posed a lot of insecurity to residents. He said government was worried about both marine and land congestions in Apapa area and had decided that new developer would be henceforth be allocated spaces at the Akodo Free Trade Zone in Ibeju-Lekki Local Government Area of the state.
Daukoru said the immediately options would be to stop the construction of new tank farms and the relocation of some of the existing depots.
Also, part of the recommendations of the Ikisikpo led committee was that tank farms and depots situated near residential areas, schools, military and police formations and other sensitive areas, be relocated. Ikisikpo had argued that since the Federal Government could relocate Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja, there was no tank farm in the country that was beyond relocation.
“Any tank farm owner who thinks that we can’t pull his tank farm from where it is, is deceiving himself, because if the Federal Government could relocate the Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja, there is no tank farm in the country that is beyond relocation, if the need arises” he told journalists after the facility tour.
In 2011, officials of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency had shut down five tank farms located in the Kirikiri area over alleged violation of environmental laws. The tank farms - Bovas Petroleum Limited, Swift Oil Limited, Fagbems Petroleum Limited, Index Oil and Gas and Techno Oil Limited, were later reopened after their management signed a Memorandum of Understanding( MoU), with the state government, where in parties agreed that a consultant would conduct a post-impact assessment of the area to ascertain the extent of environmental pollutions.
The oil firms had also agreed to construct water hydrant in front of their depots and purchase fire engines to fight any outbreak of fire in the area. The Lagos State officials said those precautionary measures had been taken because the tank farms were situated very close to residential buildings.
Also, as a response to the recent fire incident at the MRS Oil, Governor, Babatunde Fashola had canvassed for the relocation of high-risk facilities from residential areas.
The governor said in order to avoid further disasters, the way forward was for the Federal Government to tell its agencies to make medium and long-term plans to relocate such facilities cited near residential areas, which pose risks to human lives.
Fashola, who expressed his administration’s readiness to provide alternative spaces for the facilities, noted that Lagos State Government has an oil and gas section in its Lekki Free Trade Zone and that relocating to such an area would make for more efficient production and guarantees safety of life and property.
He urged the Federal Government to step up safety standards compliance level among its agencies in the state, and disclosed that the state witnessed about 22 fire incidents towards the end of last year.
Reactions Trail Call
Reacting to recent calls for relocation of the tank farms, former Minister of Interior and Chairman of Integrated Oil and Gas Limited, Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho, has faulted the call, and argued that relocating the tank farms would only amount to relocating a problem from one part of the state to another part of the state.
He posited that rather than relocating the tank farms, the regulatory agencies should compel tank farm operators to invest heavily in safety to avoid repeat of such incidents.
Iheanacho, whose tank farm is located in the Apapa axis, insisted that relocation of the tank farms would not curb fire or other accidents, stressing that only strict conformity with safety measures would prevent incidents.
He noted that several tank farms had been operating around the headquarters of Western Naval Command in Apapa for about 50 years without any incident because the operators of the tank farms conform to adequate safety measures.
“They have been there for more than 50 years and have observed safety procedures. Their age notwithstanding, so long as they observe safety procedures, there will be no incident. Relocating them is just relocating a problem to another part of the state,” he said.
Also, a major stakeholder in the downstream sector, argued that relocating the tank farms would not be the right option, because of its implications on petroleum products distribution and supply. He said the regulatory agencies are weak and have over the years failed to bring sanity in the downstream petroleum industry. He urged that the DPR should ensure strict adherence to safety standards in the oil and gas industry
However, a DPR official who decried the rate of non-compliance to the statutory laws regulating downstream operations by tank farm owners insisted that the agency had never relented in its responsibility of policing the oil and gas industry.
According to him, cases abound where the DPR had been prompted to sanction defaulting firms and in most cases shut down some oil depots over non-compliance with relevant laws.
He however explained that the agency exercises caution when it comes to shutting down oil facilities in Lagos because of strategic nature of such facilities. He however posited that relocating the tank farms would disrupt products supply and distribution in the country.
On her part, a Deputy Director of DPR, Mrs. Belema Osibodu, told THISDAY that the agency had never relented in its efforts to implement safety standards in the oil and gas industry.
She explained that officials of the agency were posted permanently to all the depots to monitor their operations, especially as it concerns safety.
“We have some members of our staff in all the depots. Even though we have shortage of staff, we still managed to send our men to monitor operations in those depots,” she said.
Osibodu further disclosed that the DPR had closed down the depot of Aiteo Energy in an effort to ensure that full investigations were carried out to ascertain the cause of the incident.
Although the regulatory agency has absolved itself of any blame on the deplorable condition of downstream facilities, an industry expert advised the regulatory agency to take the issue of Health Safety and Environment (HSE) seriously, by getting the oil firms to adhere strictly to good HSE practice.
“A positive HSE culture is that which is aimed towards saving lives, ensuring sustainable development while supporting economic growth and happiness of future generation. It is pertinent for operators of these tank farms to be HSE-conscious so as to prevent accidents and minimise environmental impacts”, said the expert.