Oil theft: Community surveillance contractors to the rescue?

Oil theft, pipeline vandalism and illegal refining of petroleum products in the Niger Delta region have assumed worrisome proportion.

Data from Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) alone, indicate that oil theft resulted in a loss of about 11,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2018, which was more than the 9,000 bpd recorded in 2017.

The SPDC said that since 2012, it had removed more than 1,160 illegal theft points.

The company was compelled to divest its equity in Nembe Trunk Line (NCTL) and OML 29, over the rising wave of oil theft along the 97 km Nembe-Bonny oil export line.

The situation at a time was so bad that Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) shut its onshore operations in Bayelsa “over unbearable level of illegal bunkering activities.’’

NAOC said the closed facilities produced about 40,000 bpd.

The firm said more than 7,000 barrels of its daily crude oil production were lost to oil thieves in Bayelsa, adding that this necessitated the closure of the facilities.

Following Shell’s divestment in 2015 from OML 29 and NCTL, Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company, acquired the asset for 1.7 billion dollars.

A year after operating the field, Aiteo, an indigenous company, said it tripled oil production from 30,000 barrels per day, to the current level of about 100,000 barrels per day.

The former Commander, Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, Rear Admiral Suleiman Apochi, on April 7, while handing over to his successor, said that he made illegal oil bunkering unattractive in the region.

Apochi said his major achievement was the increase in crude oil production from 900,000 bpd to over 2,000,000 bpd.

For Ayibapreye Yengizifa, an environmentalist who expressed delight on the increased oil output and reduction in oil theft, the feat was partly achieved because of the strategy of using local groups to complement the joint military force.

He commended the immense contributions of community-based surveillance contractors in curbing oil theft.

Yengizifa noted that the frequency of attacks on oil facilities nosedived in the past two years.

He attributed the decline to the synergy between local surveillance groups and the security agencies deployed to protect oil infrastructure.

He said that observations at oilfields operated by Aiteo and Agip, where such local surveillance groups were retained, showed that the synergy between security agencies and surveillance contractors were yielding results

“As an environmentalist, the effects of oil spills and resultant pollutions are well known and have remained a concern for a very long time.

“The impact of a change of strategy by some oil firms operating in Bayelsa, namely Aiteo and Agip in bringing local people into the pipeline surveillance space are positive.

“Labrado, Kojo Sam Logistics, and Dalung Security Services, have proved their worth and justified the confidence on local surveillance firms.

“The combined efforts of the surveillance contractors and the military have proved effective because the community-based surveillance personnel know the terrain and the people that reside there.

“Their joint patrols and raids based on credible local intelligence have resulted to seizure of large volumes of stolen crude and destruction of illegal refinery sites and this is a welcome relief.

“Previous templates of giving pipeline surveillance contracts failed because the contractors and their personnel were strange to the oilfields they were supposed to protect.

“However, the new approach deployed by Aiteo and Agip is very effective and successful; the contracting process ensured that firms and personnel conversant with the terrain were retained to do the job.

“The results so far achieved showed that much more can be achieved if the template is used by other oil firms operating in Bayelsa and indeed across the entire region.

“In addition to the economic benefits, combating oil theft and the pollutions that come with it is a welcome relief to the environment,“ Yengizifa said.

Odusi, a community rights activist urged the oil firms and governments to sustain the current efforts by making further investments in clean up, remediation and pollution control activities.

He noted that there was need to review the community development strategy adopted by oil companies as the funds oil firms spend on projects have marginal impacts on the target audience.

“There is lack of sincerity in the way the oil firms conceive, plan and spend their community development budgets, they impose and duplicate projects that may not be the priority to the beneficiaries,

“The neglect of oil bearing communities should be stopped, so that the sabotage of oil pipelines due to the perceived injustice by the host communities would also stop, if the people are happy, they can check vandals,” Odusi said.

Mr Roland Kiente, who operates a local refinery in Southern Ijaw, Bayelsa, said the involvement of oil communities in oil production value chain, would make them partners in the oil industry.

“It will drastically reduce, if not eliminate oil theft and bush refineries; we are involved in it because of neglect, but if we are given a part of the business, then the government will have nothing to worry about again. Kiente said.

Kiente said under the emerging approach, the artisanal refineries could be legalised and standardised to ensure environment sound practices.

He said if legalised, they would source crude oil from approved channels, thereby boosting the government’s revenue.

He said under the current arrangement, community refineries purchased crude from oil thieves who burst oil pipelines.

Besides, Kiente said, the community refineries could be harnessed to create employment and make refined petroleum products more available.

“It will also end the scarcity of petroleum products in the country and boost our domestic refining capacity; we cannot continue to depend on imported fuel when the refining technology is available and the crude is within reach,” he said.

With sustained collaboration between security agencies and community-based security outfits, oil theft, pipeline vandalism and illegal refining of petroleum products in the Niger Delta region, would greatly reduce.

—- By Nathan Nwakamma, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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