The problem of illegal oil bunkering and refining, also known as “kpo fire”, has always been with us since, except that in recent times it has assumed alarming proportions, as is the case in Rivers State.
Rivers State Governor, Barr Nyesom Wike is battling the twin menace of illegal oil bunkering and refining with so much gusto as if he was waging war against Boko Haram and terrorism!
What is the big deal about illegal bunkering and refining? Why so much fuss about it, even up to the point of Wike asking the state Commissioner of Police, Paul Eboka, to transfer a Divisional Police Officer, suspected of operating an illegal refinery site, out of the state?
There is legal and illegal bunkering. While the former is normal, acceptable and done openly, the latter is not legal. It involves the theft of crude oil and its by-products by hacking into oil pipelines. Illegal refining on the other hand, is the processing of the crude oil into different types of fuel, namely petrol or diesel.
Illegal bunkering translates to a loss in revenue because monies that would have accrued to the state is being siphoned away by illegal bunkers. Illegal refining poses serious environmental challenge and health hazard. It creates black soot, which is caused by the incomplete combustion (burning) of crude oil. Simply put, refining is the process of burning crude oil (fossil fuel) at very high temperature. When crude is completely burned, as is the case in a proper refinery, very little residue is left but when the crude oil is not completely combusted or burned, which is what happens during illegal refining, it leaves behind a black, flaky substance, which is soot.
There are several factors responsible for soot build-up in an area. These include vehicular emission, legal refineries, illegal artisanal refineries, gas flaring, tyre burning to retrieve steel wires for recycling, roasting of meat using tyres at abattoirs and petro-chemical industries. Other sources include asphalt plant, refuse burning at dump sites and emission from fertiliser companies.
READ ALSO : Bayelsa Residents Cry Out Over Breakout of Soot
When the causative factors of soot are allowed to operate uncontrolled, a pall of soot envelopes the atmosphere, making it look foggy, especially in the morning. Soot contains a lot of acids, chemicals, heavy metals and dust. These particles leave an ugly sight, foul smell and stains. The eyes become irritated and teary just as breathing becomes difficult.
Soot, which is very dangerous, can enter the human body through ingestion, inhalation or via the skin and eyes. The toxic particles in soot can cause breathing issues, aggravated asthma, acute bronchitis, coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke and even pre-mature death.. Studies have shown that infants, the elderly and those who already have breathing problems, are most affected during soot contamination.
Reducing soot is the fastest way to slow climate change as studies have shown that soot particles influence global warming more than previously assumed.
It is the harmful effects of the soot, both to the ecosystem and to man, that is making Nyesom Wike declare total war against the menace in Rivers State. He has ordered council chairmen in the state to hire bulldozers to bring down and burn any illegal refinery in their areas of jurisdiction. He has also declared some suspected operators wanted.
As Governor Wike is making things difficult and unbearable for these illegal refinery operators in Rivers State, the likely fallout is that they will shift base to neighbouring Bayelsa to continue their unwholesome “kpo fire” business. That is why the Bayelsa State Government needs to be proactive to ward off the oil criminals with a view to averting the impending black soot doom in the state.
Already the Bayelsa State Government has said there has been a noticeable blanket of black soot across the skyline in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital and its environs, and has therefore issued a stern warning to all those involved in the illegal business of illegal refining to desist forthwith or be prepared to face the wrath of the law.
In a statement by the state Commissioner for Environment, Iselema Gbaranbiri, the government advised residents of the state about the harmful effects of black soot to man as well as the environment and enjoined the council chairmen, residents and stakeholders to report perpetrators to government.
In addition the state governor, Senator Douye Diri has personally warned illegal refinery operators in Rivers State, who may be nursing the idea of crossing over to nearby Bayelsa, to go elsewhere because the state would be too hot for them if they dare come over.
No doubt these are good steps but certainly not enough. When asked what government should do stem the problem, Stanley Imgbi, a Yenagoa-based journalist and author of “Oil and Gas Activities: The Bayelsa Experience”, said “Government must do everything to clamp down on illegal refineries. To this end, government should engage oil producing communities to protect oil installations in their domain, this will cut off supply of stolen crude used in the illegal refining. Government should also ensure increased security patrols in and around oil bearing communities to checkmate illegal oil operations.
“Those in whose backyard the illegal refining is taking place and are condoning it, may not even know the gravity of the danger of soot. Govt should engage traditional rulers, CDC chairmen and the youths of communities to let them know the harmful effects of soot and why they should promptly report to the authorities. Govt should follow up with jingles on radio and television and also effectively use the various social media platforms to enlighten the people on the dangers of soot as well as the need to stop illegal refining of crude.
READ ALSO : Gov Wike’s War Against Soot
The absence of companies or industries is an issue. The perpetrators of illegal refinery are engaged in the business, in spite of the grave risk to their persons, because there are no jobs. Government must begin to think outside the box on how to engage the teeming youths. Job creation remains critical to tackling the menace.
Some security operatives have been fingered to be collaborating with locals to sabotage government’s efforts, as was the case in Rivers State. The various security commanders should be used to sound it loud and clear to security operatives aiding and abetting “kpo fire” operations, that it is no longer business as usual and that anyone caught would be severely dealt with.
If these measures are put in place, the Governor Diri-led administration just might be on the verge of averting a breakout of soot, and its attendant environmental and health hazards, in Bayelsa State.