LAGOS, WARRI - Nigerian security forces are cracking down on oil thieves in the Niger Delta region and they may be getting results. Industry experts say that if the theft is stopped, the country may start exporting more oil.
Pipelines crisscross the Niger Delta, transporting the oil that drives Africa’s largest economy. But local communities say they benefit little from the wealth being pumped out of their backyard.
So for years, thieves have been stealing crude from pipelines and selling it to illegal refineries to make money. Industry analysts and oil companies say theft cuts oil production by tens of thousands of barrels per day.
President Muhammadu Buhari overhauled the leaderships of the military and the state oil company after taking office in May.
Since then, security agencies have announced several raids on illegal refineries, and the arrests of thieves. The crackdown seems to be getting results.
VOA spoke with two people who worked at illegal refineries in Delta State. Neither wanted their name used because of the illegal nature of their work.
Both said the raids had caused a shortage of crude that disrupted their refineries. A third man, who left the business three years ago and now works for an oil services company, says the reason for the shortages was simple: there are more soldiers patrolling the Delta.
"Because the army is patrolling, many of the refineries have shut down," he said. "Before, the army wouldn't disturb them, but now many of the refineries can't work."
Oil production in Nigeria is expected to rise from about 1.8 million barrels per day in August to 2.1 million barrels per day this month and could reach 2.2 million barrels per day by the end of the year, says Dolapo Oni, head of energy research at Ecobank. The crackdown is one of the reasons for the expected rise.
“So we’re looking to ramp up to that amount and that’s really based on that, if we don’t have any outages, we actually have, to some extent, reduced the oil theft," said Oni.
But with oil prices depressed globally, Oni says that means even those who are refining illicitly are finding the business less and less profitable.