Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja and Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt
The Rivers State Police Command yesterday confirmed the death of 12 persons in an oil pipeline explosion that occurred in the early hours of the day at Rumuekpe community in Emuoha Local Government Area of Rivers State.
THISDAY gathered that the incident happened at about 2a.m. yesterday when a bus loaded with illegal crude oil exploded just on its way from the site, killing about a dozen people.
Among the victims were women who were said to have been burnt beyond recognition even as many other vehicles and tricycles around the vicinity at the time of the incident were also badly impacted.
It was learnt that the incident happened at the Trans Niger Pipeline (TNP) that passes through the Rumuekpe community. Recall that the problematic TNP line, Nigeria’s major liquid hydrocarbon delivery channel, was under force majeure for the better part of 2022.
It’s a key pipeline capable of transporting about 180,000 barrels of crude per day to the Bonny Export Terminal and is part of the gas liquids evacuation infrastructure which is critical for continued domestic power generation and liquefied gas exports.
Confirming the incident, the Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer, Grace Iringe-Koko, said aside from the listed number of victims, five vehicles and motorcycles were burnt in the incident.
“Preliminary investigation by the police command indicates that the victims were scooping crude oil when the site caught fire. So far, about 12 persons are believed to have been burnt to death. The identities of the victims are still unknown.
“Five vehicles, four Keke NAPEP (commercial tricycles), and one motorcycle were all burned to ashes,” Iringe-Koko disclosed.
The police admonished members of the public to stay away from illegal oil bunkering, and avail themselves of the hotlines made available by the police command to report any incident they believe has the potential to lead to crime or the breakdown of law and order.
Also speaking, the Executive Director of Youth and Environment Advocacy Centre (YEAC), Fyneface Dumnamene, said the investigation by the organisation revealed that all those who were at the exact tapping point in the “pit” got killed.
He added that some of those who had loaded the crude or were waiting to load, including women, were also killed by the explosion.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) yesterday confirmed the incident on the shell-operated line, noting that the matter had been reported to the regulatory agency. However, it noted that the incident took place on Thursday night.
“The NUPRC wishes to announce that an explosion leading to a major fire incident near a pipeline in Rumuekpe Community in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State on Thursday night has been reported.
“The commission in line with its statutory regulatory oversight of upstream petroleum operations in the Nigerian oil and gas industry has commenced investigations into the incident in conjunction with relevant stakeholders and will provide updates appropriately,” it noted.
According to a statement personally signed by the Chief Executive of the commission, Mr. Gbenga Komolafe, although there were speculations about the level of casualties, the commission could not confirm any until after its investigations.
“However, we will take necessary measures to ensure that all safety and environmental measures in line with global best practices to safeguard lives and the environment are put in place,” Komolafe noted.
Crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta, according to the federal government, have remained major threats to the survival of the Nigerian economy.
It has also hobbled the country’s ability to meet its Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota for over a year, with production falling to as low as 900,000 barrels per day in the last quarter of last year.