The most inconvenient truth about oil theft is that we cannot stop it. But this is not to say the nation is being skeptical. Our people are finding some measure of solace and hope for effective stoppage of this mindless plunder of our common wealth, with the ongoing efforts by military forces to stem the ominous tide.
Nigeria is about the sixth world's largest oil producer while its crude is one of the finest - the light, sweet variety of crude oil favoured by the United States and European refiners for the high quality of gasoline it produces.
According to dependable industry source, Nigeria lost N191 billion in just the first quarter of 2013 to crude oil theft, vandalism along major pipelines within the oil-producing Niger Delta region. Again it was estimated that in months of May and June, this country may lose N83 billion as NNPC and the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) declared force majeure on its 150,000 barrels per day Bonny Light export with the shut down of its N174.9 billion Nembe Creek Trunkline.
Saturday Vanguard reliably gathered that there are 53 break points along the 97km Nembe Creek Trunkline and if this situation is not adequately tackled, Nigeria won't be able to meet its target of 2.48 million barrels per day crude production, revealed Deputy General Manager, Public Affairs, NNPC, Tumini Green in a statement issued recently.
Investigation showed that oil theft has variants like illegal bunkering, organised, syndicated pipeline vandalism, illegal exportation and illicit refinery of petroleum products. Most if not, all of these activities are carried out in isolated creeks, waterways and rural communities of the Niger Delta.
The introduction of military joint task forces had helped to combat oil theft and associated criminal activities that tend to undermine our national economy whose lifeline is income from crude oil that accounted for over 90 per cent of the national revenue.
Different military task forces are operating in the region. That of Bayelsa State is codenamed Operation Pulo Shield, the force combating oil thieves in Edo, Delta and Ondo states is known as JTF, Joint Task Force.
Several enclaves in the creeks and riverine areas have become havens for illegal bunkering as many sea going vessels are using these areas for trans-shipment of stolen crude oil to overseas where there are ready markets in which foreign refineries turn the crude oil to finished petroleum products which are later imported into Nigeria and the fuel prices subsidised by government.
There are also local illegal refineries which litter the creeks fed by stolen crude. So many camps built along the creeks where these illegal refinery operators do their business while massive, huge, locally built canoes are used in transporting petroleum products to the high sea, ongoing to other countries along the West Coast of Africa.
NNPC lamented that there was a drop in crude oil production from January to March, 2013, caused by incessant theft of crude oil. The corporation said that on a daily basis, crude oil production during the period fluctuated between 2.1 and 2.3 million barrels per day compared with the projected 2.48 mbpd.
Although repair work is expected to be completed after six weeks at the 53 break points discovered along the 97km Nembe Creek Trunkline, Tumini Green explained thus: "This will further reduce our April and May monthly average to about 2.2m bpd and further decrease crude oil revenue by about $54 million (N83 billion) that should have accrued to the federation account."
The NNPC, however, assured that, "we shall continue to work with relevant government agencies both at the federal and state levels to end this incessant crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism."
The corporation decried the menace of crude theft and its negative effect on the environment, operational costs and image of the country and economy of the country.
No doubt that the deployment of military forces and decision to establish permanent military presence in the Niger Delta creeks to check activities of oil thieves were well taken and justified, considering the huge financial losses being suffered. Heavily armed troops with gunboats and using smaller watercrafts to reach tiny inlets have been dislodging these oil thieves and raiding illegal refinery operators across the region.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that during raids by JTF between April 1 and 10, 2013, about 35 illegal refineries were discovered in Rivers and Bayelsa coastal communities which have now been destroyed. Also about 22 illegal refineries were set ablaze by JTF in Edo and Delta states, used by vandals who engaged in oil theft on right of way of NNPC.
Oil spills often reported by oil companies are believed caused by thieves and vandals, with serious environmental damages and contaminated coastlines. Pollution of drinking water and rivers for fishing are some of the adverse effects of these illegal activities as over 70 per cent of the waste from illicit refineries are discarded into the environment.
There can also be fire on these trunklines when they are tampered with by thieves as they carry crude to loading terminals in Bonny, Escravos and others, ranging between 150,000 - 250,000 barrels per day. Any illegal tinkering with the pipelines could cause fire outbreaks.