Saturday, 11 July 2015

Pipeline explosion kills at least twelve in Bayelsa State, Nigeria.

Twelve people have been confirmed dead, three more have been seriously injured and one is still missing following an explosion on an oil pipeline in Bayelsa State, Nigeria on Thursday 9 June 2015. The incident happened during repair work to the Agip-operated Tebidaba-Clough Creek Pipeline near the town of Azuzuama, and all of the dead are said to have been part of the repair crew, which included security staff and environmental observers. The work was reportedly being carried out following damage to the pipeline by oil thieves, a highly dangerous practice known locally as 'bunkering'.

Pipeline explosion in Bayelsa State. Nigerian Guardian.

Oil bunkering is a highly risky activity, the oil is highly toxic and both cutting into pipelines and the distillation process frequently result in deadly explosions, which is then refined using home-made fractionation equipment (also dangerous). In addition the authorities are prone to (often draconian) clampdowns on the activities of oil bunkerers, and are threatening to re-introduce the death penalty for those involved in the activity.

However the sale of black-market fuel provides a means of gaining hard cash in an area that has seen little benefit from the presence of the oil companies, and where the oil is often seen as a resource that should belong to the local people, not foreign oil companies or the (fairly remote) government of Nigeria. The environmental problems caused by both legal and illegal oil operations in the Delta strongly impact upon the local economy, which is based upon small scale farming and fishing, leaving many people with no legitimate source of income, which combined with a rapidly growing population and therefore increased demand for food, makes the black market oil industry more attractive than it might otherwise seem.

The Niger River has been flowing into the Bight of Benin since at least the Cretaceous. During this time it has meandered back and forth across what is now southern Nigeria, as well as moving back and forth with the rise and fall of the sea level. The river caries a great deal of sediment with it, which is dumped when it reaches the sea forming the delta. Over time the organic material within the sediment forms pockets, which are then heated and crushed by the overlying sediment (increasing pressure also increases temperature, and vice versa, which is why aerosol sprays, undergoing rapid decompression, are cold), forcing water out of more complex organic compounds (dehydration) and forming pockets of gas and oil. 

Unfortunately oil and hydrocarbons formed in this way tend to develop as a very large number of small oil fields, rather than a few large reserves which can be accessed from a limited number of large oil platforms. This has meant that as the oil industry has developed in southern Nigeria, the country has become criss-crossed by a very large number of small pipelines; such pipeline networks are expensive to maintain, and almost impossible to secure against the activities of oil-bunkerers, leading to both frequent attacks on pipelines and cases where oil companies have sought to use the thefts to justify poor maintenance of remote pipelines.

See also...

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