By: Hector Igbikiowubo
THERE are indications that crude oil theft from the upstream sector of the oil industry in the country has worsened in the last six months, accounting for about 680,000 barrels per day of about 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) currently shut in.
Vanguard exclusively gathered from security operatives that some retired generals have been fingered in the escalating theft of crude oil and the perpetuation of the air of insecurity in the Niger Delta.
Officials of oil majors - Shell, Mobil, Chevron, Total and Agip - which operate joint ventures with the NNPC claim that a significant proportion of the shut-in volume is as a result of technical challenges, but they declined to state the exact volume affected.
However, when contacted, an official of the National Petroleum Investment, Management Services (NAPIMS), a subsidiary of the NNPC who did not want his name in print confirmed that shut-in volume is about 1.3 million bpd. Sixty per cent of this is as a result of militancy, while the 40 per cent balance is as a result of technical challenges.
The NAPIMS official disclosed that in the last one month output volume has been oscillating between 1.6 million bpd and 2.0 mbpd, short of the 2.2 mbpd production volume upon which the 2009 budget was predicated.
He admitted the incidence of crude oil theft and reporting by the multinationals has increased in the last six months, adding that it was a security issue which the authorities were trying to tackle.
Investigations further revealed that at the Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo) operated Sea Eagle FPSO, illegal bunkering activities has continued unabated, even though operations were suspended about 3 years ago.
In the last quarter of 2008, irregular visits of barges were observed transiting the field and inspection conducted confirmed illegal bunkering activities on 19 wells and by end of January, 2009 nocturnal visits by barges escorted by speed boats had increased to 5 days a week.
Vanguard gathered that during the period, the security agencies were informed accordingly, but there was no response in January, up till the second week in February, when a feeble attempt at pursuit of the thieves was initiated.
In an effort to protect the facilities around the Sea Eagle, Vanguard gathered that Shell personnel mobilised and visited the facility to remove tubing and valves installed by the thieves to open the sub-surface safety valve and master control valve.
However, the oil thieves, who wear balaclava suits resurfaced with machine guns mounted on top of four fast-moving boats and fired busts of gun shots to warn off the Shell personnel from their criminal activities.
Investigations revealed that in the vicinity of Warri, Port Harcourt and Yenagoa, crude oil thieves enjoy a field day, taking crude oil unhindered from well heads of different oil and gas exploration and production companies, with the security agencies unable to check their excesses.
Although indications are that government is doing all within its power to check the incidence of crude oil theft, a security operative working in the delta disclosed on condition of anonymity that government lacks the political will to check the situation.
“Look here, we have arrested some of these vessels in the past, only to be told to release them immediately by some big shots in the military. In fact now, they do not even wait for us to arrest any vessel. We are warned in advance to expect these vessels and not to interfere with them.
“Some of those we had accosted in the past had mentioned names of notable retired military Generals who you least expect to be involved in all of this and when we called to verify, it turned out to be true,” the security operative disclosed.
When contacted, a notable militant leader in the Port Harcourt area disclosed said he was surprised Vanguard was asking after the involvement of retired military officers, adding that he took it for granted this was common knowledge.
“Government aids these people to remove crude oil for sale. It might also surprise you to note that even some civilian big wigs get white product allocations for sale. There is even a serving general who has three cargo loads of crude oil watering in Togo triangle (a place in the Republic of Togo) and I can trap them for you posing as a buyer. But these people are very dangerous and desperate. I advise you to tread with caution,” he volunteered.
Because of the nation's dwindling production capacity, OPEC at its meeting, penultimate week, pegged Nigeria's production output at 1.69mbpd.
Repeated efforts to reach the spokesman of the Joint Task Force, Col Sagir Musa, yesterday proved abortive.