News / Africa

In Niger Delta, Black-Market Oil Booms

Nigerian security forces say they have burned more than 900 illegal refineries to the ground in the past five months, but oil companies continue to complain that theft is crippling their profits.
Nigerian security forces say they have burned more than 900 illegal refineries to the ground in the past five months, but oil companies continue to complain that theft is crippling their profits.
Heather Murdock
Part 2 of a 3-part series

WARRI, Nigeria – Over the past five months, Nigerian security services have torched more than 900 illegal oil refineries in the country's coastal areas, but locals say business hasn't stopped.

While oil companies and the government complain they are losing more than $1 billion a month in proceeds from stolen oil, workers at the illegal refineries say the oil belongs to all Nigerians and that, for many, it is the only way to make a living.

It started years ago when a Niger Delta palm-wine maker figured out how to apply his techniques to a more profitable enterprise: refining small amounts of Nigeria’s vast stores of crude oil in barrels over wood fires.

Obtaining stolen oil with the help of his local "boys" - former Niger Delta militants who gave up their weapons and returned home on the promise of jobs which never materialized - over the years his secret was shared with friends.

Although militants have ceased fighting in Niger Delta waterways over the past two years, the underground market for stolen oil has boomed. Illegal bunkering - oil theft and its illicit refinement, sale and distribution - has turned some rivers and creeks into virtual black-market oil and fuel highways.

A dirty job

In Niger Delta cities like Warri fuel is sold in jerry cans from illegal refineires and often resold several times before it is used. (VOA/H. Murdock)In Niger Delta cities like Warri fuel is sold in jerry cans from illegal refineires and often resold several times before it is used. (VOA/H. Murdock)
x
In Niger Delta cities like Warri fuel is sold in jerry cans from illegal refineires and often resold several times before it is used. (VOA/H. Murdock)
In Niger Delta cities like Warri fuel is sold in jerry cans from illegal refineires and often resold several times before it is used. (VOA/H. Murdock)
Along one river in the Niger Delta, small streams of smoke rise from burned-out artisanal refineries. Women and children paddle dugout canoes packed with jerry cans of fuel to sell in the markets, and teenage boys guide large corroding wooden boats - presumably laden with stolen crude - toward the refineries.
 
One man operating a small refinery on the riverside gets upset when asked where the oil comes from. If the government provided jobs, he says, men like himself wouldn't be in the oil trade at all.
 
"We just call it offense, [but] there is no offense. If the federal government put companies here, you [would] not see anybody do this job," he says. "It’s a dirty job anyway."

Everyone in the community, he says, gets a cut of the profits, and most people have no other options. Even local law enforcement is in on the game, he explains, taking their cut and looking the other way.

'Operation Pulo Shield'

Lieutenant Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, spokesperson for Nigeria’s Joint Task Force, or JTF, in the Niger Delta, says only people who want security forces such as JTF to fail are willing to accuse task force agents of profiting from the industry.

"I believe that those that making such insinuations are detractors of the JTF," he says. "There are those that are outraged by the exploits and successes of our operations, and when we deal a blow to those illicit activities they react."

In January, the JTF shifted its focus from fighting militants to protecting oil, he says. With peace largely restored, the JTF even renamed its mission, calling it "Operation Pulo Shield" ("pulo" means "oil" in the local Ijaw language).

“The new focus is to combat illegal bunkering, illegal refineries, pipeline vandalism and other sundry crimes bedeviling Nigeria’s oil and gas sectors," he says.

National economic impact

According to Indutimi Komonibo, special advisor on oil and gas to the governor of Bayelsa State, in a country where most national budget revenues and nearly all foreign currency come from oil exports, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“The nation is losing a lot of crude to oil theft perhaps because of negligence, or perhaps [because] our youths don’t have anything to do, or perhaps the oil companies also need to be blamed," he says.

The Niger Delta is also reeling from oil spills. In fishing communities, residents say business has flatlined, their children are sick and there is no help in sight.
 
Oil companies and the Nigerian government, however, say illegal bunkering and refineries are responsible for more than half of the spills, complicating efforts to hold the companies responsible for cleanups.
 
Along one oily riverbank, a local man in tall rubber boots says his family has never received help cleaning up oil that soaks the leaves and kills the fish. He doesn't look for help, he explains, because his refinery is illegal.

Like others in the Niger Delta, he says denying Nigerians access to their resources is an injustice.

“They should make these local refineries to be legal, because they’re the life of these people," he said. "You know people who are involved with these things? In the whole Niger Delta? I can say half of it is involved.”

When asked where he gets his crude oil, he just laughs.

“It’s something we find in our soil,” he says.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs