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‘NNPC not doing enough to protect pipelines’

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Chief Executive Officer, Mudiame International Limited, and Mudiame Welding Institute Limited Prof. Sunny Eromosele, in this interview with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH, spoke on the recurring explosions from oil/gas pipelines, and proffer solutions that could suitably address the challenges. 

What is your take on the recent pipeline explosion at the Abule-Ado area of Lagos State?
I cannot actually establish what took place. The available information has blamed the incident on bomb explosion, pipe leakage, as well as gas cylinder explosion. Whatever the cause is, the situation is really disturbing and calls for serious investigation because if we had done the needful, especially proper monitoring, it could have been detected. However, if it was a pipeline failure, or an expiration of the life span of the pipe, or if the explosion was based on technical effort, or leakage from pipeline, then the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) should be held responsible.  
   
In 2006, a similar experience killed at least 200 people, burning them beyond recognition, same happened in 2008 at Ijegun, Lagos State killing over 100 people. We had same situation in January this year. Are you worried over this situation? 
   
As a Nigerian I am worried because lives are involved, economic and communities are involved, and all these do not speak good of our country before the global community. Probably, people that are responsible for managing the system are not taking their jobs seriously, or they lack knowledge of what to do. Many lives have been lost to pipeline explosion beyond the total number of losses that we have recorded from diseases. So, what has been happening is a clear case of inefficiency and failure on the part of the Federal Government.  

   
All these affect the country because many lives have been lost due to mismanagement. How often do you hear of pipeline explosion in America like you hear in Nigeria? How many in France? Since it is happening so much here, it means that something is wrong somewhere; we are not doing the right. 

Vandals have been repeatedly blamed for these explosions. Are there other factors beyond this?
I don’t want to accept the fact that pipeline vandals are basically responsible for these explosions, but it is always easy to reach that conclusion. While it is very important to state that the activities of the vandals have remained worrisome and require strategic approaches, especially in dealing with the root causes of vandalism, which may not be far from poverty and marginalisation, there are many other avoidable reasons that could be responsible for these explosions.

For instance, pipelines have life cycles like humans. If they are designed to last for 20 years and we use them beyond that specified period, we are only doing that at the detriment of our lives and properties.  We have been running oil and gas in Nigeria for 50 years and these pipelines were built in the 1970s. We need proper records to ascertain when the pipelines were installed. 

   
Also, Nigeria is known for poor maintenance culture.  These pipelines are expected to be monitored, and we are expected to do integrity test periodically. I am not aware that these things are being done. If the NNPC has a record of monitoring, it may need to publish it to prove that it is not to be held responsible for some of these issues.  
   
There have been too many pipeline explosions in past few years.  A reasonable organsation or government would do everything possible to address such situations, but the reverse is the case here even when lives and properties are in danger. This speaks of the attitude of our government towards the lives of its citizens. The NNPC really needs to come forward to prove the root causes of incessant pipelines explosion. For me, it either the integrity of the pipelines is waning, or they are overdue for change, or they have not been properly monitored for repairs. There are ways to prove these explosions in the laboratory, but we are yet to establish that. 

The NNPC actually signed a number of contracts for surveillance of the pipelines, and has said that there are control rooms where leakages can be detected. But despite the approaches, we still recount sad stories from these assets. Can we say the problem is already beyond control or are there other sustainable methods of checking this menace?
From a professional point of view, there are other ways and dimensions that we could look at the issue. However, I don’t think that the current approach is comprehensive enough. It is not all about awarding contracts without value for money. If we are spending money on the protection of pipelines, and we are not getting value, then we need to go back to the drawing board.  

How many times have we considered a laboratory analysis anytime that there is a pipeline explosion?  Do we have laboratory researches to ascertain that the pipes were actually broken, or they elapsed due to age and depreciation or corrosion?  Do we know the level of defects on the pipelines? Some of these pipes could gradually begin to get rotten. We need a general assessment and evaluation of the state of this facilities using known equipment to detect the lifespan of this pipelines, or to detect leakages, and when they have been exposed. When pipelines that are to be buried are exposed, they are allowed to age faster than they should, while they are also put in situations where people have access to vandalise them. We need a holistic approach to protecting our pipelines. The approach being adopted at the moment, for me, is not working.

What are the economic implications of these explosions?
The implications are huge. We should not in any way play games with the lives of our people. What is currently happening could be counted as disregard for lives. Over 23 persons died in the latest incident, some of them were breadwinners for their families. The figure of death from pipeline explosion in this country is worrisome. It is totally unacceptable. Properties are also lost, while some are irreparable damages are inflicted on families. People have lost their houses, cars and other valuables to these explosions. 

While these incidents last, the Federal Government also feels the shocks because these pipelines would be shut down from transporting products, and doing this affects government’s revenue, affect power plants, manufacturers, as well as our international customers, who rely on the line.   

 What will be your advice to the Federal Government or the NNPC on how best to manage these pipelines?
I would recommend that there should be multiple approaches to pipeline protection. In some cases or areas, we should consider relocating or burying the pipelines. There should be comprehensive and consistent monitoring of pipelines using known scientific methods to establish the age, and state of each of these facilities before they begin to fail.

I recommend that a comprehensive package of pipeline monitoring be put in place, and this includes the use of modern technology. Should the pipelines be due for replacement, they should be replaced, isolated or better still shutdown. I believe that would save the lives of Nigerians and the environment that is being degraded everyday.


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