On Sunday, April 24th, Nigerian state authorities and the police reported a blast at an illegal petroleum treatment facility on the border of Nigeria’s Rivers and Imo states. The explosion left more than 110 individuals dead, with some dying during the initial blast and others succumbing to injuries after. Fortunately, the Imo state government has made it known that the owner of the illegal oil refinery has been declared wanted and is being relentlessly pursued.
The cause of the explosion is still being investigated, and there is some definitive proof of how it may have happened. On Friday night, a fire had broken out at the oil refinery, and the fire spread until it reached two fuel storage tanks, resulting in the refinery being engulfed in flames.
According to other oil industry operators, these illegal oil refineries can steal over 200,000 barrels worth of crude oil every day. The oil thieves can accomplish this by tapping into pipelines that belong to major oil companies. The stolen oil is refined into products and stored in makeshift oil reservoirs. There is also an increased risk of pipeline fires for legal and illegal oil refineries. Most of the time, the fires result from poor maintenance but could also be the work of vandals who siphon the oil to sell.
With these risks in mind, the question of why anyone would be willing to work at these illegal oil refineries is cycling around. Unfortunately, in the Niger Delta, poverty and unemployment rates are sky-high, leading many to choose to work at these shoddy establishments. These illegal refineries can be found along the marshes and creeks of the Niger Delta, where oil is most prone. However, these refineries, set up near water, have the liability of oil spills and pollution. Nigeria is known to contain an abundant amount of oil; it is the largest producer of crude oil in Africa. Despite the quantity of oil Nigeria possesses, there are only a few official refineries. With most of its gas and other fuels being imported, leaving it prone to illegal refinery operators.
These illegal oil refineries have been a huge issue for the authorities. Authorities have tried to crack down on them, but with little success. This issue doesn’t seem to be uncommon either. Back in October, there was a previous explosion and fire in a different illegal oil refinery in Nigeria’s Rivers state, which killed about 25 people.