By Omon-Julius Onabu in Warri
Amid the worrisome increase in the incidence of pipeline vandalism and illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta that appears to have defied all efforts, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has resorted to using daily helicopter overfly to check the devastating illegality.
Though considered a very costly approach to tackling the economic and environmental menace that has greatly undermined Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, the Shell authorities said the daily overfly of its facilities in its East and West operational areas was meant to furnish the company with daily cartographic information about the area.
The General Manager (Communications) of the SPDC, Mr. Philip Mshelbila, told journalists in Warri at the weekend that having practically adopted every available measure by engaging community or local as well as regional, national and international avenues, the company’s management decided for the aerial surveillance as an extra measure.
Through the new aerial surveillance measure, which involves overflies and taking of pictures that are analyzed daily the company for instance has been able to identify numerous vandalized points and carry out repairs.
An oil vessel which had illegally sneaked into the creeks in Bayelsa State recently was spotted during such overflies, though the large vessel mysteriously caught fire and was burnt down before it could take stolen crude and find its way back, into the high seas.
Moreover, Mshelbila lamented that crude theft, about 80 per cent of which is mainly sold in the international market using falsified documents, part of the remainder is used in the thousands of local illegal refining in the region and the rest is wasted as uncontrolled spills on the environment.
In the same vein, the General Manager (Asset Management), SPDC West, Mr. Mesh Maichibi, absolved the Shell staff of any complicity in the large-scale crude oil theft from its facilities, despite the widespread allegation that illegal bunkering of the magnitude being experienced in the Niger Delta could only be possible with “insider connivance.”
However, Maichibi, the engineer who oversees the movement of crude oil from Shell’s oil reservoir or well through the flow stations to the export terminal in his area of jurisdiction between Bayelsa and Delta states said “it is very difficult, indeed it is impossible for crude oil to be stolen from the terminal facility” manned by a top official of the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC), an agency of the NNPC.
By implication, the federal government which holds 55 per cent stake in the NNPC-SPDC Joint Venture also controls the outflow of crude oil at the export terminals, including the Forcados’, where the country’s oil finds its way into the international market formally.
Nonetheless, the Anglo-Dutch oil multinational’s communications chief, Mshelbila, appealed to all Nigerians to join the renewed campaign against all vandalism and illegal bunkering because they were the stakeholders that were being shortchanged by the heinous crime.
He explained that although SPDC looses an average of 60,000 barrels of crude oil a day in the area including frequent shut-ins due to vandalism, the huge extent of crude theft in Nigeria was better appreciated when it is considered that there several oil companies like Agip, Chevron and local operators from who products are also stolen.
Beside the economic consequences of huge crude oil theft, which is often highlighted by government officials and commentators, other consequences include serious environmental damage that could take decades to clean up, social disconnect like youth restiveness and illegal arms proliferation especially in the Niger Delta.