Pipeline vandalism and the military option part 1
“I conquer my enemies when I make them my friends” – Abraham Lincoln.
Nigeria’s continental ranking in crude oil production suffered yet another dip in the month of March. For the second time in four months, Angola has beaten the once undisputed largest producer in Africa. Data from the April Market Report of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) indicates that Nigeria produced 1.677 million barrels per day in March, down from 1.744 million bpd in February, while the Angolan oil output rose from 1.767 million bpd to 1.782 million for the same period.
A major contributory factor to the significant loss in production is the endemic challenge of pipeline vandalism. The constant intrusion on pipelines by vandals means a constant interruption of production flow for repairs, which cost not only time and money but also adversely impact on the myriad of other economic activities that thrive on energy supply.
One of the most strategic pipelines in the nation’s entire network is the Trans Forcados Pipeline (TFP) system. As the second largest network in the Niger Delta, TFP transports oil, water and associated gas from fields in the western delta to the Forcados oil terminal. The terminal has an oil export capacity of 400,000 b/d with a 31 kilometres of pipeline delivering crude to offshore loading berths for export. TFP is, therefore, the major trunk line within the system, which feeds multiple branches from onshore fields. With a total capacity of 850,000 bpd, the 26-inch diameter pipeline is largely buried along most of its length and shared by several operators for production evacuation.
Following what it described as “series of leaks” in the Trans Forcados Pipeline, Shell Petroleum Development Company declared a force majeure on the Forcados crude oil stream. Consequently, SPDC, Seplat Petroleum Development Company and four other Nigerian companies comprising Shoreline Resources Limited, Neconde, First Hydrocarbon Nigeria (FHN) and Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), shut down some oilfields, effectively disrupting the export of 189,000 barrels per day and led to a drop in power generation by 1,500 megawatts.
In a desperate search for a lasting solution to the problem of incessant pipeline vandalism, the Federal Government, according to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, is reportedly considering deploying more sophisticated military machinery in the region to protect the oil infrastructure.
In 2012, the former Joint Task Force (JTF) operating in the Niger Delta was reconstituted and renamed Operation Pulo Shield: Pulo is an Ijaw word for “Oil”. The operational scope of the task force, which initially covered Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers was extended to cover nine states, namely Abia, AkwaIbom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers state.
So far, Operation Pulo Shield has recorded some marginal successes. From arresting some suspected pipeline vandals to destroying illegal refineries and even rescuing a kidnapped soldier, the men and officers of the task force have faithfully pursued their mandate, even at great risks and sacrifices. Numerous raids have yielded the confiscation of various arms and ammunition and sometimes, with barges, boats and stolen crude or other petroleum products seized from the perpetrators.
Yet, pipeline vandalism, illegal refineries and kidnapping and other forms of violence persist. Government’s frustration at tackling the problem of pipeline vandalism has clearly been betrayed by the present contemplation and call for support in deploying “even sophisticated weapons to ensure we contain the vandalism, overhaul security, and a permanent pipeline security force might also be an option to look at” as reportedly expressed by the Vice President.
But the stark reality is that the use of military force and sophisticated equipment will never guarantee lasting safety of oil installations in the country. Our experiences as a nation have proven that lasting peace and security cannot be forced on a people. The temporary restrain occasioned by the use of force will only remain as fragile as to be shattered at the slightest provocation. There are over 21, 000 kilometres of pipelines criss-crossing the nation through several communities. To imagine the size of the work force and the equipment required to protect that stretch of pipeline is very difficult to contemplate, especially given the state of our tottering economy.
To Be Continued
• Onunwa, based in Lagos can be reached through:email@example.com