Nigeria is currently the largest oil producer in Africa and the thirteenth largest oil producing country in the world. Crude oil production in 2014 of 2.42 million b/d (barrels per day) meant that it far outstripped its nearest continental rival, Angola, whose output was just 1.74 million b/d. Despite the large volumes of oil it produces, Nigeria’s exploitation of its crude oil reserves continue to be severely hampered by instability and supply disruptions.
In addition to 4000 attacks on pipelines across Nigeria between June 2014 and June 2015, 350 NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) staff, police offices and citizens have also been killed over the last three years. Oil theft has been the key motivation behind the conflict. Primarily located in the southern Niger Delta region, Nigeria’s oil and natural gas industry has long been at odds with local groups who sabotage oil infrastructure to reach the lucrative crude oil.
Accessed using a technique known as ‘bunkering’, stolen oil is either used by locals to make crude kerosene and gasoline or transported by international criminal syndicates to such markets as Eastern Europe, South America and Asia. Oil theft often leads to pipeline damage that not only has an adverse affect on the surrounding environment, but also on overall production. This is crucial, because with the country’s oil industry accounting for around 90% of exports and 75% of consolidated budgetary revenues, Nigeria’s economy is heavily reliant on a sustained flow of oil.
However, it is thought that stolen crude and illegally refined oil products actually cost Nigeria some $6 billion a year in lost revenue. This has an obvious impact on the states already faltering economy and oil theft is a challenge that the newly appointed Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, is looking to tackle head on.
The NNCP Take Action
In the aftermath of the recent Nigerian elections that saw the ousting of Goodluck Jonathan, President Buhari sacked the entire board of the NNPC as part of his national anti-corruption drive. This came a little over a year after the head of the Nigerian Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, claimed $20 billion of oil revenue “went missing” from NNPC accounts. The NNPC’s new managing director, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, is now tasked with mitigating corruption within the industry and to ensure oil theft is stopped for good.
One solution to be deployed by the NNPC that will be familiar to readers of previous Infrared Camera Warehouse blog entries is the use of UAVs or ‘drones’ equipped with infrared cameras. Whilst the U.S. Department of the interior have trialed this technology to great effect when monitoring wildfires, it is hoped that it may also be equally useful for locating oil thieves in Nigeria’s many waterways.
Working in collaboration with the Nigerian Navy, infrared equipped UAVs deployed by the NNPC will monitor ships within the countries waters in a bid to locate illegal transporters of crude oil. According to the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas, once a suspect vessel has been located by UAVs, the Navy’s response teams will swiftly move in to apprehend. Kachikwu predicts that the use of UAVs combined with other approaches will see the end of mass oil theft within just eight months.
Whilst the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) are also looking to test the use of infrared armed UAVs to document the vandalism of oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta region. This is the first occasion that the NNPC have undertaken such a proactive venture, and is indicative of a new-found willingness by President Buhari and the state to fight the countries oil theft at its source.