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Pipeline Pirates in Nigeria

Updated on June 2, 2015

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has recently reported losses upwards of N8 billion since January, due primarily to pipeline vandalism. Recent months have seen a sharp upsurge in attacks on pipelines, especially in the Niger Delta. The Trans-Forcados pipeline, in particular, has suffered so many attacks that six exploration and production companies began looking for alternative routes to the Forcados Export Terminal in Delta State.

Such acts are responsible for oil spills, fires, ground water contamination and interruptions in the country's electricity generation . The Niger Delta Power Holding Company has reported that many of its plants only work at 40% of capacity due to interruptions in oil and gas delivery. Though the grid has budgeted for at least 35 days of interruption, ion 2015 alone we have seen more than 70 days of interrupted flow.

Experts estimate that more than 150,000 barrels of crude oil are lost daily to pipeline vandalism. While the Nigerian government is not powerless against pipeline vandals, they have failed to make the necessary investments to better secure and monitor the pipelines that criss cross the country's landscape. Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Nebo, has long been an advocate of a digital monitoring system that would help reduce losses by alerting authorities of the exact location punctures as soon as they happen.

Pipeline vandalism is a type of piracy. Crude oil is siphoned out of exposed pipelines, often near waterways, and collected in buckets, drums, canisters and whatever else is available. The stolen product is then loaded onto trucks and boats and ferried to makeshift refineries. The finished product is then often distributed roadside in unmarked bottles. The operation is far from state of the art, but the demand of black market is so large that it threatens the legitimate oil and gas operations. Nigeria's Shoreline Natural Resources Ltd, reports at least 15% of their crude oil simply vanishes from the pipelines.

Despite all of this, there has been some good news in the fight against vandalism. Low gas prices in Nigeria has made the prospect of vandalising exposed pipelines less attractive to small time vandals. That, and the risk of being caught by Nigeria's navy, has cut vandalism back enough to encourage Shell to reopen a pipeline in February. With the african nation receiving the majority of its revenue from its natural gas and oil production, tackling the conditions that make pipeline vandalism possible is a must.

The government calls pipeline piracy a form of corruption. The smugglers, they say, only hurt themselves and the public at large by diverting much needed revenue from government coffers into repairs and policing efforts. As Nigeria's crude oil and gas revenues are threatened, so too are its prospects for pulling many of its citizens out of poverty and improving the nation's infrastructure.

For many smugglers, there is simply no other way to support their families. With limited education and limited opportunities, pipeline piracy is the best way to provide a life for their families. The corruption, they say, is not from the villagers trying to make a living, but from the government itself. They accuse local officials of taking bribes and naval officials of stealing money during raids.


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