Pipeline vandalism: Flourishing in a flounder!
Pipeline vandalism is a business flourishing in a floundering economy. So serious an issue that the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation; Dr Ibe Kachikwu upon resumption in office, promised to use drones to curtail the menace. So disturbing that DrillBytes detailed the technicalities involved in drone deployment in its edition of 21st October, 2015. According to the vanguard newspapers of March 12, 2013, Nigeria loses about $6B yearly from crude oil theft and pipeline vandals has made the task of conveying refined petroleum products across the over 5,000km of vast network of pipelines a living nightmare. For the fact that the 22 Petroleum Products and Marketing Company, PPMC in-land depots remain largely under-utilized due in part, to their moribund state, hauling of about 70% of products distribution is done through trucking also known as bridging and this requires about 10,000 trucks plying the roads daily. Looking at the effect of the crime as it relates to the country’s loss of revenue, health risks and explosions that lead to outright death of the vandals, it became imperative to bring the issue to the front burner.
The intentional destruction of property is referred to as vandalism. The penalty for such criminal act, sabotage in Nigeria, is 21 years imprisonment but apparently, it is not deterrent enough. So emboldened are vandals that they, in Ilashe Island near the Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos, managed to run a suction pump into the major pipeline in the area from where they suck petroleum products into receptacles as much as they desire. So confident are these criminals that Arepo town in Ogun State which seems to be their headquarters in the South-West region of Nigeria has been turned into a battle ground between the pipeline vandals and security operatives. Just recently, a truck conveying 8,500 litres of petrol stolen from Arepo pipeline was impounded in Ijebu-Ode. The deployment of a Horizontal Direct Drilling, HDD System designed to re-direct pipelines and ensure restricted access by vandals and hackers is a technology that also allows monitoring of the pipeline on a regular basis. ENNIKOM is the company that manages this technology in Arepo town. In spite of the deployment of this technology, the crime still blossoms and the town remains a battle ground of some sorts as vandals now make use of deadly ammunitions to prosecute their nefarious activities.
Some stakeholders have suggested that the status quo, if properly managed, can minimize to manageable levels if not completely eliminate the menace. Such people contend that, if there are no fifth columnists within, the high rate of pipeline vandalism would have been drastically reduced by now as the introduction of drones will, over time, be sabotaged as much as the present technology appears to be. The status quo is such that, once an irregular movement or signal is observed, the security agents are called upon to move in from the nearest station. Between when a report is made and when the security agents arrive, enough time is given to the vandals to carry out their criminal activities unchallenged and very few of those involved is eventually arrested. Closing the gap between when a criminal activity is noticed and when an arrest is made, DrillBytes believes, is what made the NNPC GMD develop an appetite for drones, one that should be well nourished!
The effect of pipeline vandalism includes but is not limited to pollution of the immediate environment, with petroleum products which makes life difficult to thrive. The vandals themselves, sometimes, get burnt beyond recognition as a result of explosions that lead to fire incidents and are killed in the process. These wild fires subsequently threaten anything and everything in its path and are usually put off after serious damage has been done. If the business is as bad as this for the practitioners, how come several of them are still in business? The answer apparently, lies in the fact that the benefits supersede the risks! How many of these vandals have been duly penalized? Why are present measures taken to checkmate the vandals, rather than discourage, emboldens them?
The recent disclosure of Nigeria’s Petroleum Minister to privatize the country’s pipelines, if done, will be a master stroke against the vandals.
In addition to the existing structures on ground to check the menace, the deployment of specialized sensors that can trigger off alarms at a sharp drop in flow rate, volume and pressure can be considered alongside deployment of drones. It is a fight that requires the immediate drafting of military men in full battle gears to the most notorious theatres of war like Arepo! Furthermore, the creation of a pipeline vandalism tribunal with the full complement of the law to expeditiously prosecute these criminals is long overdue. Those armed enough to resist arrest should be shot at first sight. A chronic disease, as they say, needs a drastic cure. Pipeline vandalism is a crime against Nigerians and should therefore, be curtailed with constitutionally backed military dispatch. It is a business that the NNPC must make less attractive to vandals, a crime that the security agencies must decapitate expeditiously and a venture that must be speedily rewarded by sufficiently deterrent laws. This is the only offer we can make these criminals that they cannot resist, the only way to discourage the flourishing crime and revitalize a floundering economy.
Kayode Adeoye is an energy expert from Lagos