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Apapa tank farm: Nigeria’s hidden danger

As a social commenter and writer on a brazenly corrupt society  like Nigeria, it’s hard not to be viewed as a doomsday prophet like the biblical Jeremiah. This is because any predictions made for a morally decaying polity would usually result in an immoral judgment so to speak.

Apapa road blocked by Tankers
Apapa road blocked by Tankers

But in the drunkenness of national corruption, avarice, looting and plain thievery, it is also important to understand how all this wealth gets to your table and how all the economic activities that produce the wealth are made possible.

This strategic perspective would go a long way in the appreciation of the crucial steps necessary for nation building and the weak points that may mean life and death for a country like Nigeria.

In plain terms, there is a single light-switch industry that one may say supports all the others and is essentially the life blood of the entire macro-economic system. If this switch is turned off, the entire nation is thrown into darkness, a single factor which if affected adversely would essentially cripple the entire country within hours indefinitely.

The longer one brainstorms, the clearer it becomes that as a country, the Apapa tank farm is as important to Nigeria as the head is to the body of a national organism. The Apapa tank farm holds about 90 per cent of Nigeria’s petroleum products and as we all know, all industries directly or indirectly run or depend on petroleum products for survival.

Storage of imported petroleum products is the single most delicate economic activity in the present day Nigerian economy. This storage depot of over 200 tanks of explosive fuel, owned by about 50 private companies represents the foundation and lifeblood of the entire Nigerian existence.

Everything is tied into the availability of energy and fuel for production: prices, inflation, employment, food, education, life expectancy. Therefore, any disaster experienced within that facility will immediately ripple across the entire nation. This tank farm holds the energy supply and distribution capability of almost the whole Nigerian state within its walls. It also happens to be highly explosive, volatile in nature and at present poorly regulated.

Given that Nigeria is yet to make significant strides in alternative energies and diversified energy sources because she continues to neglect the option of refineries and because she cannot maintain a functional national pipeline system, the country is forced to depend on facilities like the Apapa tank farm for basic sustenance and survival.

The Apapa metropolis also houses the busiest ports in sub-Saharan Africa- the Lagos Port and Tin Can Island port complexes. This orgy of port and petroleum import business with its associated heavy machinery has made the entire area almost inaccessible on any given day.

And, because there are no pipelines to transport petroleum products to and from its storage grid, the nation must rely on giant tankers to do the job. These tankers have literally turned the major motorways into parking lots.

These are the same roads leading to the busiest ports in sub Saharan Africa and one of the largest petroleum storage facilities in the world. The resultant situation is absolute mayhem. In a normal country with normal people, this situation would have been addressed before the apparent current population explosion.

In One of my articles published on 6th September 2014 by Vanguard Newspaper titled: “Nigeria: Apapa Tank Farm Complex- a disaster in the making,” I went into elaborate detail and analysis on the likelihood and consequence of failure of a 200 tank complex laden with highly explosive fuel.

In that article, I cited examples such as the Buncefield accident in England in 2005, which from one leaking tank, 30 tanks were destroyed in two days of inferno that blasted buildings as far as eight kilometers away and registered about 2.5 on the Richter scale.

If a 30-tank complex can cause such havoc in a developed nation with a functional firefighting system and proper urban planning and industrial layout, imagine what a 200-tank complex like that of Apapa would do to the Apapa metropolis, with its dense traffic, roads, and residential areas and miles of tankers filled with the same explosive material.

Can the bridges within that radius withstand a 2.5 Richter scale shake up, given that they may have never been inspected since erected? Will the fire fighters be able to contain steel melting heat and flame? Can the Nigerian economy handle a crippled Lagos and an indefinite fuel scarcity? All it takes is one unlucky leak from one tank.

While the political euphoria from the last election dies down and things gradually get back to normal, hopefully, it is important that the paramount significance to national security of this facility be duly noted especially by the Federal Government. The facility literally holds the entire Nigerian economy in its hands and can bring the country to its knees.

Perhaps the Federal Government’s greatest fear is not crazed terrorists targeting it, since human entry and movement can somewhat be controlled, but the undetected leak that comes from neglect and lack of inspection causing an explosion. For this reason, government regulation is paramount towards averting an impending industrial disaster, and ensuring that neither of the two evils occur. The future of every Nigerian rich or poor depends on it.

The government’s involvement through third party inspections is a coalition between the public and private sector. Through a professional nondestructive testing (NDT) agency the government can begin now to evaluate which tanks are defective and commence repairs and maintenance.

As stated in the earlier Vanguard article of September 6th 2014, simultaneously, loaner tanks can be built along the Lekki area as previously proposed. These loaner tanks though not enough for a full relocation in the short run would ensure that tanks undergoing repair today have somewhere to route their product and production is not in any way affected.

Over time, this loaner tank facility would evolve into the new facility and a complete move would be made from Apapa to Lekki. This short run/long run strategy will not only ensure the facility is safe today but provide for its continued functionality tomorrow, all in one stroke.

It is absolutely imperative that the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) consider, and strongly if I may, the initiation of an inspection and maintenance program, through a third party Inspection company for the Apapa Tank farm complex based along the lines of the American Petroleum Institute (API) Standards, the commencement of a new Loaner facility in Lekki,

Lagos, to support the massive inspection/maintenance project and sustain production levels andthe support of an experienced 3rd party inspection company to inspect and report on the current mechanical integrity of each tank in the facility:this company or group of companies will oversee the periodic maintenance activities outlined in the inspection program as specified by API and will always be on ground to ensure that procedures are followed and standards are met.

The DPR may also consider upgrades in capital protection through electronic monitoring of facilities. Wireless Leak Detectors, cameras, digital pipeline protection, all working in hand with the state police and military, can ensure a recovery of stolen income enough to reignite another economic boom. According to some online news reports, Nigeria loses about N430 billion yearly to crude oil theft and bunkering.

What a shame, considering that half of this money may as well solve the electricity crisis in the country, all from one year’s loot recovery. As an experienced person in the industry, one can only watch in amazement as the professionalism and dynamism of Nigerians is enjoyed by other countries.

This administration will surely do well in involving the experienced middle-aged and youth in initiating ground breaking programmes that may save the world’s largest black nation from economic Waterloo.

By Ikenna Ifedobi

Ikenna Ifedobi is a consultant of the American petroleum Institute (API) and an economist based in USA.



Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.