Nigeria has destroyed about 600 illegal oil refineries in the Niger Delta and arrested seven oil thieves in the last few months, the military said.
Details of the refineries were not immediately available, but industry officials said they could be makeshift structures where oil thieves distil crude into fuel for sale in Nigeria, which experiences frequent disruptions in gasoline supplies.
Major General Sarkin-Yaki Bello, commander of the joint military task force (JTF) in charge of security in the heartland of Africa’s top energy industry, said the refineries in Rivers state were destroyed between October and mid-December.
He said intelligence sources indicated that about 1000 such refineries were operating in the area.
“Ignoring or patronising them means supporting the destruction of the Nigerian economy,” Bello told reporters at a news conference in Yenegoa, capital of the nearby Bayelsa state.
Twenty-eight drums of illegally refined and adulterated products, 27 empty jerry cans and two steel funnels were among items recovered from some of the destroyed plants, Bello said. Seven people caught siphoning crude from a damaged oil well-head were arrested along with six motorcycles.
The illegal refiners had been stealing oil from pipelines operated by companies including Royal Dutch Shell, Italy’s Agip and state oil firm NNPC, which has joint ventures with ExxonMobil and Chevron.
Hundreds of illegal oil refineries have sprouted in Niger Delta since ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo first ordered in 2005 that they be destroyed, industry sources said.
Nigeria has been prevented from pumping much above two thirds of its 3 million barrels per day (bpd) production capacity in recent years because of attacks by militants on infrastructure and because of thieves tapping in to oil pipelines, who at their peak were stealing 100,000 bpd.
Thousands of gunmen disarmed earlier this year under a presidential amnesty programme and several months without any major attacks have allowed oil and gas firms to begin repairing damaged facilities.
Sources www.reuters.com and www.rnw.nl