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The Osisioma Ngwa pipeline inferno

By Sonny Atumah

There were fatalities associated with a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC oil pipeline inferno in Osisioma Ngwa, in Abia State last week. Osisioma is close to the NNPC Depot in Aba. NNPC’s preliminary report indicated alleged activities of vandals who hacked into the line to intercept flow of premium motor spirit, PMS in its System 2E pipeline network from Port Harcourt to Aba.

Abia pipeline explosion
Explosion rocks Abia

Communities claimed the inferno was caused by an explosion on the pipeline. Conflicting as the reports from both parties were, it was an established fact that fire killed about 200 people. We inflame passion when we are not temperate in our utterances, so leaders should learn to take responsibility.  Many have lost loved ones and we should empathise with these families in their grief.

The unfortunate incident was indeed, a national calamity that may require an enquiry to forestall a recurrence.  This is not time for our trade culture on the deceased who may have been victims of our national malaise. It again calls to question the vexed issues of safety and security of lives in Nigeria. The right of way resurfaced after the unfortunate incident.

What is the right of way for petroleum pipeline and associated infrastructure? What is the reason for right of way? Many live under high tension power lines without knowing the danger to their lives and its effect on the society.

Until there is an explosion from a leaking products pipeline many of our citizens are wont to believe that it was opportunity to scoop free fuel from a society they perceive care less about their survival and well-being.  The 1998 Jesse pipeline explosion claimed over 1000 lives who ignorantly attempted to eke out bare existence from scooping highly flammable Premium Motor Spirit.

Pipelines are good to distribute petroleum products. Pipelines as energy infrastructure are important for refineries, petrochemical plants, gas plants, power generation, transportation and manufacturing. In Nigeria pipelines are those major links to refineries, petrochemical plants, storage facilities, terminals and thermal electricity generating plants.

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We have about 5100 kilometres network of crude and multi-product pipelines linking four refineries, 10 gas plants, 10 export terminals including two offshore terminals in Bonny and Escravos, four jetties at Atlas Cove, Calabar, Warri and  Okrika as well as 22 interlink storage depots and 83 private depots for PMS, DPK and AGO. The pipeline is a specialized form of transport mode that is very important to a nation’s development.

Nigeria’s pipelines crisscross the rivers, creeks, swamps and farmlands in the Niger Delta and to depots outside the region. In an effective pipeline network, any disconnect puts consumption out of the reach of the intended user. Pipeline vandalism makes government lose revenue from stolen crude oil and petroleum products.

Much as we may blame vandals and their nefarious activities our petroleum resources managers have not risen to the challenge to deploy our pipelines effectively. The excuses that vandals destroy facilities have left the pipelines to experience moribundity. Facilities that are left for upwards of ten years may not pass integrity tests for lack of use.

The situation has giving room to transporting petrol using road tankers; some of them with contents of 60,000 litres of inflammable products moved from the congested import terminal of Lagos to distances of over 1500 kilometres in Nigeria’s hinterland. The situation as it were meant there were greater risks to the motoring public as we frequently witness countless avoidable fatalities in the cities and the highways of these articulated petroleum tankers whose drivers are infantile in road conduct. They are used because they have the exuberant and youthful energy to go the long mileage hug.

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Again,these have brought friction between and among marketers and the petroleum products authorities on petroleum equalization over allowances and claims. The situation leads to product diversion by some marketers who want to profiteer.

The present NNPC management may have appreciated the need to utilize the pipelines and attempting to deploy it optimally. Having crisscrossed some of these facilities one may be in a position to say that we have a lot of work to do in securing our critical national infrastructures.

Communities are blamed for not assisting with relevant information for pipeline security even when we fail to educate them on the dangers inherent in pipeline bursts or leaks. Pipelines in most communities have become sources of horror in Nigeria. There are many countries that have succeeded in policing their pipelines that we can learn from. If security is the problem we should deploy adequate resources in securing our pipelines.

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Critical energy infrastructure vandalism has assumed global dimension that protection cost governments billions of dollars. The Federal Government recently approved N17 billion to track refined petroleum products movement from the point of importation opening to storage tanks of filling stations where they are discharged and sold.

The authors fail to consider security of pipelines. It was time we corrected this lapse. It is cheaper to transport products through pipelines than using thousands of articulated road tankers. It is the standard global practice.


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