A devastating explosion at an illegal oil refinery in southern Nigeria has resulted in the loss of at least 18 lives, tragically including that of a pregnant woman, as confirmed by a security official and local residents on Tuesday.
The catastrophic blaze erupted late on Sunday in Rivers State when a makeshift refinery triggered a nearby oil reservoir, leaving victims with severe burns, according to a security official.
With concerns mounting among residents, there are apprehensions that the death toll may rise further due to the significant number of individuals believed to have been present at the site during the incident.
“Twenty-five injured people were rescued,” disclosed Olufemi Ayodele, the spokesperson for the local Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps.
Chima Avadi, a local activist, explained that the workers at the site were involved in the refining of oil sourced from a vandalized pipe. Avadi detailed, “When they scoop from the point where they vandalized the pipe, they will take it to where they were cooking. That is how the fire started.”
Tragic incidents involving explosions at locally operated refineries are unfortunately common in the oil-rich yet economically disadvantaged Niger Delta region. This area bears the brunt of chronic oil theft, with most of the nation’s oil facilities targeted.
In addition to the loss of lives, Nigeria officially reported a staggering loss of at least $3 billion worth of crude oil to theft between January 2021 and February 2022.
Criminal operators frequently evade regulatory oversight by setting up refineries in remote, hard-to-reach areas. The workers at such facilities seldom adhere to safety standards, resulting in recurrent fires, including a tragic incident in Imo state last year that claimed the lives of more than 100 people.
Fyneface Dumnamene, the Executive Director of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, remarked, “The money they make from there in one or two days is more than what a civil servant can make in a year.” Despite Dumnamene’s group advocating for environmental reforms and an end to such illegal activities, the growing economic hardship in Nigeria has driven many individuals to seek opportunities to make ends meet.
In addition to the tragic loss of lives, Nigeria suffered a significant economic blow, with the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission revealing a loss of at least $3 billion worth of crude oil to theft between January 2021 and February 2022.