FROM GORDI UDEAJAH (UMUAHIA) A ND CHIDO OKAFOR (WARRI)
Monarch wants communities empowered to protect pipelines
THE soaring rate of oil theft and illegal refining in the Niger Delta is cause for great worry for Anglo-Dutch oil firm, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), which at the weekend raised the alarm that oil export and supply of crude to Nigerian refineries via pipelines were becoming seriously threatened.
The firm admitted that more oil was probably being stolen than exported in both its Eastern and Western operational areas. SPDC Asset Manager, Swamp West, Mesh Maichibi, estimated that at least 60,000 barrels of oil (about $6 million) is being stolen daily from several of its main trunk lines in Western Niger Delta.
According to him, this is apart from about 35,000 barrels being frequently deferred when the oil firm shuts down its facilities for repairs on ruptured pipelines. The Shell Regional General Manager, Communication, Mr. Philip Mshelbila, noted that: ‚ÄúThey are stealing so much that we can‚Äôt even maintain pressure in our system. There are times the pressure is so low the system shuts down automatically.‚Äù
Mshelbila said the oil thieves, who previously carried out their activities in the Eastern Niger Delta, were now moving gradually into the Western Niger Delta probably due to the increased security activities in the Eastern axis.
To check this trend, the traditional ruler of Ehume in Umuahia South local council of Abia State, Eze CM Nwosu, has canvassed ‚Äúreal support and empowerment,‚Äù and some form of cooperation between the security agencies to enable the communities hosting the oil pipelines to effectively protect them from vandals.
Eze Nwosu told The Guardian in Umuahia that host communities policing the pipelines is no problem, ‚Äúbut we have to be trusted and equipped to do this effectively. Where this is done, we should be held responsible if we fail.‚Äù
However, Mshelbila explained that the oil thieves first cut open the pipeline and the pressure drops. The drop then compels Shell to shut down the pipeline to effect repairs.
While the repair goes on, the thieves attach tapping points at several places on the pipeline so that when the repair is completed and the pipeline is turned on, they get supply through long pipes, often buried beneath and connected to flat-belly barges or large wooden boats laden with large plastic tanks, which are eventually moved to foreign vessels anchored on deep waters not too far away.
Unfortunately, several measures to check oil theft, including the employment of 9,000 pipeline surveillance personnel from host communities, daily over-flights of areas prone to oil theft for updates, introduction of technology to detect tampering on pipelines, engagement of the military Joint Task Force (JTF), have not changed the situation, he said.