The country is losing about 180,000 barrels of crude oil daily to thieves, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has said.
The Group Managing Director, NNPC, Mr. Austen Oniwon, who said this on Thursday when members of the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) paid an oversight visit to the corporation in Abuja, also solicited the assistance of the National Assembly to combat the menace of illegal oil bunkering and crude oil theft.
The NNPC boss said, “The first challenge, which I will like the House to help us with is the high level of insecurity of oil and gas facilities. As at today, our operations have been severely handicapped by the activities of these criminals.
“We are losing almost 180,000 barrels of oil per day to criminals. If you reflect back that the total amount of crude being produced per day in Ghana and which sustains the whole country is about 120,000 barrels, yet, as a nation, we lose more than that to criminals.”
Beyond the financial damage to the national treasury, illegal refineries built by oil thieves, according to him, are causing near permanent environmental damage to the Niger Delta region where they are located.
Oniwon warned that if left unchecked, the environmental damage wrought by the activities of oil thieves and illegal refineries could make the Ogoniland pollution saga look like a child’s play.
“These people drill into the pipeline, take what they want, and at the end of the day, they just leave the pipeline to gush out its content into the environment. The case is even worse for those who engage in illegal refining. They just take crude oil into drums, put fire underneath, boil it and whatever boils off it is what they take,” he said.
According to him, about 25 per cent of the crude oil that the illegal refiners take is utilised, while the remaining is poured on the soil, thus leading to massive pollution of the environment.
Oniwon said, “And because hydrocarbon can stay in the ground for decades and even centuries, it means that in practical terms, it will take generations before the land can be recovered and made productive again.”
“A United Nations report indicates that oil has penetrated 30 metres deep into the soil; so, even if you want to remediate the environment, you cannot scrape 30 metres of top soil and replace same. So, we are looking at a near permanent damage to the environment.” On exploration activities at the inland sedimentary basins, particularly the Chad Basin, the NNPC GMD lamented what he termed paltry appropriation from the National Assembly, which he said was slowing down the tempo of oil search in the area.
“Last year, we proposed a budget, but we got just $230,000, which is totally inadequate. This year, we proposed a budget of $269m for 2012; we only got $75m. So, our desire to explore for oil in the inland basins is being defeated because of poor budgetary allocation. But we will continue to try our best so that we can open up the inland basins to produce more crude and gas for this country,” he said.
Oniwon also called on the House to speed up work on the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill.
The Chairman of the committee, Mr. Muraina Ajibola, pledged the readiness of the committee to work with the NNPC as part of its statutory oversight function in such a way as to ensure that Nigerians benefited adequately from the proceeds of the nation’s hydrocarbon resources.