Seeking End to Oil Theft

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The federal and Delta State governments have been advised to collaborate in tackling the rising criminal activities of crude oil theft on the Oil Mining Lease 26 jointly owned by the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company and First Hydrocarbon Nigeria Limited, writes Peter Uzoho

Almost on a daily basis, oil bunkerers find new frontiers for their illicit operations in Nigerian oil fields.
They keep expanding their cartels and syndicates and migrating to new oil zones to sustain their criminal business: bunkering, illegal refining and, desecration of the environment, with its huge negative impact on the nation’s economy.

Crude oil theft in all its forms has been going on in the oil rich Niger Delta states for decades despite efforts of the government and the operators to curb the menace.

However, what used to be a familiar occurrence in the more volatile Rivers and Bayelsa States has gradually moved to new locations in Delta State.

The Oil Mining Lease (OML26), a 10,000 per day oil producing asset jointly owned by the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Limited (NPDC), an upstream subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and First Hydrocarbon Nigeria Limited (FHN), has suffered series of attack by the thieves in recent times.

OML26 is located in Delta State and has two oil producing fields in Ogini and Isoko. Its equity is shared 55:45 per cents between the NPDC and FHN respectively and, a technical partner, Asset Management Team (AMT), is managing it on behalf of the NPDC.

Between June and September 2019, between 400,000 and 450,000 barrels of crude has been lost at the asset to the thieves who carry out their bunkering operations everyday even in full glare of a military formation stationed near their scene of operation in the area.

In August this year, Edo State Governor and Chairman of the Ad hoc Committee of the National Economic Council on Crude Oil Theft, Mr. Gowdin Obaseki, disclosed that Nigeria lost about 22 million barrels of its crude oil production to oil theft between January and June 2019.

Obaseki who warned that if nothing was done to curtail the ugly trend, the figure could double by the end of the year, added that the menace of oil theft and pipeline vandalism were beginning to pose a threat to the national economy.

Also, a January 2017 report on ‘oil theft and diversion’, by the Atlantic Council, a Washington D.C. –based organisation, had described Nigeria’s oil theft case as “unique, in that bunkering can be done using hot or pressure tapping while the pipeline is still in operation, or the thieves can engage in cold bunkering, where they blow up a pipeline and install a permanent underground tap leading to a storage facility while the line is out of operation.”

The above scenario is what has been happening at the OML26 fields for the past four months where the thieves, alleged aided by unscrupulous security operatives, steal crude by illegally connecting their pipes to the NPDC/FHN pipelines and start syphoning. They also have refineries where they produce diesel and sell to people in cellophane containers.

“We discovered a 3-inch pipe which they connected to our 10-inch pipeline; they would connect their hose to this pipe (one of the pipelines in Agbarha-Otor), insert a valve and begin to load into the truck and go away. Underneath this place is where our 10-inch pipeline that goes to the LACT Unit in Eriemu.

“Yesterday (October 2) we came and harvested the three-inch pipeline that was connected to our pipeline and dug underneath three kilometres away before inserting their valve, we removed the pipe and clamped the hot tap spot,” the Manager, Government, Security and Community Affairs, NPDC/FHN, OML26 Asset Management Team (AMT), Mr. Blessing Ogbowo, told journalists last week during the team’s raid and demolition of such pipes and illegal refineries in Agbarha-Otor.

“This is just the preliminary of what they do, the real refinery, that is, where they are cooking the crude, is deep inside the forest. What happens here is, they bring their trucks, connect their hose to this pipe and begin to steal our crude. If the truck gets filled up, it goes and another one comes. That’s what they do here. They operate at nights.

“This line comes from our Flow Station at Ozoro. It is 29 kilometers from our flow station to the LACT Unit where we offload into the major trunk line that goes to the TFP (Trans Forcadoes Pipeline). So, it is in-between the 29 kms that they have this tapping points and steal our crude,” Ogbowo said.
The situation further raises question as to the credibility of security agents to really protect the nation’s oil assets which is part of their statutory duties.

Commentators have for so long been accusing security operatives assigned to guide the pipelines and other oil industry assets of colluding with oil thieves to steal crude because of pecuniary gains from the proceeds of such crimes.

It remains a mystery how the bunkerers would steal crude from the pipelines, load into their trucks and pass a military formation, the Headquarters of the 222 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, without being caught.
The distance between the 222 Battalion in Agbarha-Otor and the NPDC/FHN LACT Unit where crude is being stolen is just about 700 meters difference.

But Obowo attributed that to acts of few bag eggs among many good ones, saying they have been working closely with the Force in the community despite all odds.

“We work closely with them, they support us, and we have over 40 soldiers that are in our operations and support our operations. It is a mystery to me how the thieves come here and begin to steal the crude even with the presence of the soldiers.
“But we work closely with them, we work in collaboration, and don’t forget that there is always a Judas among the 12 disciples which is why we are saying that the press need to help us and expose them.
“Because we cannot say it to the world who is really behind it. There is collaboration between us and the leadership of the military. But the mystery is, in spite of that collaboration, the stealing is still taking place under their nose and that’s what we can’t explain,” Ogbowo said.

He said the management even went as far as contracting some people to help in safeguarding the assets and to inform them of any development but that such could not still curb the stealing.
According to him, the failure of the contractors to deliver led to the termination of the contract which was supposed to be a yearly-renewable contract.
“The contract was for them to work here 24 hours. What we are saying is that there is serious compromise across board. We have now decided to terminate the surveillance contract because of the level of stealing here. “We said we cannot continue to pay you when the job you are doing for us is suffering. It was a yearly renewable contract. So every year we renew it. The contract lasted from August to September 2019.
“This high level of stealing started in June. We started losing crude in a high level in June this year. When they started, they started from about 500 barrels a day, 800 barrels; they increased to 1000, to 1,500 barrels a day.
“As at last week (September ending), we were losing 5, 400 barrels every day. So if you calculate it over time, we have lost well over 400,000 to 450,000 barrels of crude within three months. When we complained to the military guys here they said they have been doing their best.
“But to be fair to them, one of the challenges they have is shortage of manpower. Because it is the 222 Battalion that sees from here (Agbarha-Otor) down to Kwale. So, Midwestern operations, Neconde operations, Agip operations, our operations, Heritage operations, all of them, are under them.
“So the manpower they have is not enough to really take care of the situation. There are situations when we would report that the crude oil thieves are operating, let us go and raid them, but they would have deployed their men to other operations at the same time, maybe, destroying illegal refineries in Enwe or in Uzere or in Ewreni or somewhere else.

“I think that is one of the major reasons why they are unable to cope with the high level of stealing that is taking place. And I must also say that if you recall, most of these things used to be a familiar occurrence in the heartland of Niger Delta – Bayelsa, Rivers State.
“But there seems to be a migration of the thieves from that side down to this area. It is a sad commentary,” he said.

Ogbowo also regretted that despite spending over a billion naira on the 34 host communities as corporate social responsibility, through a Community Development Board (CDB) set up after a Group Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU), the criminality still goes on unabated.

He further said: “We pay money into that board and we have paid over a billion naira to the board. Why this is still happening in spite of all that, is beyond us. Again, it is not the communities themselves that are doing this. There are criminals within the communities. So at the leadership level of the communities you have people who want to collaborate with us, who want to take actions to stop this ugly menace.

“The Chairman of the CDB, Prince Johnson Akpomalue actually stopped payment of the fund to two of the communities where the stealing is scandalous. Apart from Agbarha-Otor, there are two other communities where you see diesel being sold in cellophane containers.

“The thieves refine it in the night, then in the morning people will come and buy in 25 litre cellophane containers and load them and go. It is done with impunity under the nose of security agencies as if to say, come and dare us if you can.

“The Police and the soldiers have made several arrests. This is the second time we are embarking on illegal refineries destruction. We have destroyed some in the past. Because it is a cartel and a syndicated criminal operation, as soon as you finish the destruction of the refineries, they will go and mobilise, reinforce and begin to build again, and because access to the terrain is difficult, you cannot just go in there, it is difficult. The terrain is marshy and swampy, so it is not something you go every day but they have mastered the act.

“We don’t know how they do it, they bring in their equipment and they build. For instance, we destroyed seven the last time and the security agencies in Isoko North Local Government told us that they had information that the thieves were building another 16 new illegal refineries.
“It’s a syndicated arrangement. So we want this thing to be really exposed because the economy of this country is bleeding. So until the federal and state governments come to our rescue, we may not be able to fight this fight all by ourselves”.

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We don’t know how they do it, they bring in their equipment and they build. For instance, we destroyed seven the last time and the security agencies in Isoko North Local Government told us that they had information that the thieves were building another 16 new illegal refineries. It’s a syndicated arrangement