‘Age-old Rot’ Shuts Down Warri Refinery
BARELY two weeks after it resumed operation, the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company (WRPC) has been shut down.
The development is coming on the heels of public excitement that followed news of the nation’s moribund refineries kicking back to life.
The Guardian learnt that the refinery was shut down few days ago, as crude oil stored in its receptors ran out.
“It goes to show the rot that has been embedded in the system over the years. Now that you have a Buhari government in place, everybody is running helter-skelter to do the needful and in the process they have forgotten to do proper planning. And as they say, when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
“Right now, you have a situation where everybody is in a hurry to do the right thing and they forget that you have to follow a process because there are equipment at that refinery and those equipment need to be put in proper condition. And secondly, the feedstock, which is the crude oil, has to be guaranteed because there is no refinery without feedstock,” said former Manager (Strategy and Planning), Chevron Nigeria, Mr. Yemi Emiko
Supply of crude to the refinery from the platforms of Chevron Nigeria Limited, via a dedicated pipeline, had over the years, been frustrated by militants who, repeatedly, blew up the conduit. This had forced an alternative plan by the Federal Government where sea vessels supply the product to the refinery.
“The crude oil the refinery received, recently, has been used up, so the management has no choice but shut the refinery down because there is no crude to refine,” a senior official of one of the NNPC subsidiaries told The Guardian.
The Chanomi Creek pipeline, which should have fed the refinery, runs from the Abiteye fields of Chevron in Escravos, Warri South West Local Council, Delta State. The NNPC had reportedly spent billions of naira on its repairs, following repeated damage by militants. The development was believed to have compelled the Federal Government to alternatively approve the use of sea vessels for delivery of crude to the WRPC.
It was learnt that as at weekend, fresh supply of crude was being received at the refinery and production could resume in three or four days. The news stock would, however, serve for a brief period until it is again exhausted, sparking concern that the facility might be running epileptic mode.
The refinery, which produces 62,500 barrels per day at 50 per cent capacity, and refines about 4,612,500 litres of petrol per day, received its last supply of consignment through the pipeline in 2012.
Analysing the scenario, Emiko said: “That is why most of the private refineries given licenses many years ago are unable to operate because there is no guarantee of feedstock. People are saying they gave licenses out and the private owners have been unable to build because there is no guaranteed feedstock. Many of them found themselves in a situation where there is no assurance you will get crude oil to refine.
“Now, bringing it down to government-owned refineries, you rush to open the refineries and there is no crude oil to process. So, what is the essence? Yet Nigeria is producing crude oil. As at the last time I checked, crude oil is still being produced in Escravos, Forcados, Ekete and Kwa Iboe. So, where have all the crude gone that we can’t get oil for our refineries? There is still a whole lot of work to be done.
“You have pipelines that were built 30 years ago and they are rotting because of lack of maintenance culture. We know also that people who are engaged in illegal bunkering in those areas vandalize the pipelines, yet the contract to repair the pipelines is given to the same people who vandalize the pipelines. We know them; it’s big business. So, it is going to be repeated again and again till you put a full final stop to it.”
For the refinery to work effectively, Emiko added: “Do the proper thing; maintain the pipelines, change some of the sections which are bad due to corrosion or due to continuous sabotage and breakage by our own people in the Niger Delta, and then guarantee feedstock for the refinery, otherwise you keep going round and round.”
According to the senior official of the NNPC subsidiary: “The refinery has been shut down since two days. I think it has to do with the logistics of getting the crude. Most of their pipeline system has been affected badly by the activities of vandals. The rate at which the refinery is processing is so fast that the barging system they use in supplying crude to the refinery would not be able to meet up. Now, I think they are trying to stockpile to a certain level, then they will start operating again shortly.”
He said the government and NNPC are doing “something to activate the pipeline that supplies crude to the refinery, maintain it properly, and provide adequate security to protect it.”
Meanwhile, the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE), located near Warri, in Delta State, has embarked on a research project to design and build “micro-refineries,” as part of the government’s amnesty programme for former Niger Delta militants.
Professor Akii Ibhadode, Vice Chancellor of FUPRE, told The Guardian in a telephone interview, that the university was collaborating with the Buy-Naija Project of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment, to create miniature crude oil processing plants, “based on indigenous technology”.
Ibhadode, a distinguished Mechanical engineer and former dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Benin, said the 30-week project was in its initial stage, with January 2016 as the target date for its completion.
“What we are doing now,” he explained, “is replicating indigenous refineries—the ones some talented youth have been operating in the bush. We don’t condone their illegal activity. But the technology they’ve created works. So, we will replicate it, test their design and improve on it”.
Ibhadode named Mrs. Mary Edema, Professor of Hydrocarbons and Organic Chemistry, as head of the research team, which consists of Mechanical, Electrical and Petroleum engineers, and has a budget of N60 million.
According to Ibhadode, the small production units the FUPRE team is working on, “will be mechanized and have some degree of automation”.
The V.C. said further, “Our micro-refineries are expected to produce standard quality petroleum. The units will also be low-cost and should prove to be a formidable rival to the much vaunted modular refineries”.