The Agbada 2 flow station should have been buzzing with activity, pumping crude to one of Nigeria’s largest export terminals. Instead it was idle in the muggy, midmorning heat as Wilcox Emmanuel, the facility’s manager, shrugged in resignation about the thieves who’d shut him down.
As much as 30% of the oil sent by pipelines through the swampy Niger River delta is stolen, consultant Wood Mackenzie estimates. That’s depriving the country of income amid a crippling recession and compounding the pain of a global price slump for Africa’s largest producer.
At Agbada, the wells dotting the surrounding forests had been closed for three weeks following a pipeline leak that was probably deliberate. “Who knows when we’ll be back up?” Emmanuel said.
The 60,000-BOPD flow station, owned by Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian unit and idle for most of June, illustrates the nation’s struggle to restore deliveries of its most vital resource. Even after the government quelled a militant uprising that sent production to a 30-year low last August, smaller-scale sabotage caused by people trying to steal oil remains rife.
Companies are using surveillance helicopters equipped with infrared cameras every day. They’re also experimenting with drones and cages on wellheads rigged with alarms. But nothing seems to fix the problem.
“We’re trying all sorts of things, you wouldn’t believe it,” Igo Weli, a manager at Shell, said in Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s oil capital. “But how do you protect thousands of kilometers of pipelines against people who are out to sabotage them?”