…says ‘samples from Niger Delta’s illegal refineries superior in quality to imported petrol’
International oil dealers from the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries export into Nigeria yearly 900,000 tonnes of fuel ‘dirtier’ than the product from the country’s black market and illegal refineries in the creeks of the oil-rich Niger Delta, a new report by international resource watchdog group, Stakeholder Democracy Network, has alleged.
According to the SDN, a new laboratory analysis has revealed that petrol made from illegal refineries in the creeks of Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta is of higher quality than imported fuel.
The group’s report, which is part-funded by the UK Foreign Office’s Anti-Corruption Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, also says black market fuel from the region’s swamps is also found to be less polluting than the highly toxic diesel and petrol exported from Europe to Nigeria.
Multinational oil companies – Shell, Exxon, Chevron and other major oil companies- extract and export up to two million barrels per day of high quality, low sulphur “Bonny Light” crude from the Niger delta.
But very little of this is refined in Nigeria because her four refineries located in Warri, Kaduna, PortHarcourt are not functioning, despite series of multimillion dollar Turn Around Maintenance carried out on them over many years.
This situation has given room to international dealers exporting to Nigeria around 900,000 tonnes a year of low-grade, “dirty” fuel, made in Dutch, Belgian and other European refineries, while hundreds of small-scale artisanal refineries produce large quantities of illegal fuel from oil stolen from the network of oil pipelines that criss-cross the Niger delta.
The SDN report further notes that the result is that Nigeria now suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the world, with dense clouds of choking soot hanging over gridlocked cities.
This, it says has led to a rise in serious health conditions as well as damaged vehicles.
Extreme toxicity of the fuel exported from Europe left researchers, who took samples of diesel sold in government-licensed filling stations in Port Harcourt and Lagos, highly surprised, the report also says.
The SDN says they found that on average the fuel exceeded EU pollution limits by as much as 204 times, and by 43 times the level for gasoline.
Laboratory analysis, it states, also showed that although the black market fuel was highly polluting, it was of a higher quality than the imported diesel and gasoline.
The average “unofficial” diesel tested exceeded the level of EU sulphur standards 152 times, and 40 times the level for gasoline, it claims.
SDN Programme Manager, Florence Kayemba, says, “Our research suggests that Nigeria is having dirty fuel dumped on it that cannot be sold to other countries with higher and better implemented standards. The situation is so bad that the average diesels sampled are of an even lower quality that that produced by artisanal refining camps in the creeks of the Niger delta.”
The group ‘s report adds that with more than 11million, mostly old, cars imported from Europe and Japan on the roads, and hundreds of thousands of inefficient generators used by households and businesses for electricity, Nigeria ranks fourth in the world for deaths caused by air pollution.
It has been estimated that 114,000 people die prematurely from air pollution each year.
The air quality in cities like Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha and Kaduna has reached crisis levels of pollution in recent years, and there is mounting evidence of rising asthma, lung, heart and respiratory diseases, it also alleges.
More than half of developing countries, mainly in Africa and Latin America, still use high-sulphur fuels which have long been illegal to burn in western countries.
In Nigeria the practice is encouraged by an opaque fuel subsidy system that keeps prices relatively low at the pumps, but is widely thought to fuel corruption.
Refineries in Europe are allowed to make the fuel if countries agree to accept it.
The SDN report also calculates that around half the air pollution in Port Harcourt, a city of more than three million people, comes from the burning of official and unofficial fuel.
The rest comes from nearby gas flaring, other industries, and the burning of rubbish.
According to SDN, levels of particulate matter in Port Harcourt and Lagos are 20 per cent worse than Delhi in India, the most polluted capital city in the world, where emergency levels of photochemical smogs are common.
In 2016, World Health Organisation rated the River Niger port city of Onitsha the world’s most polluted city, following the recording of the concentration of PM10s – soot particles – at 594 micrograms per cubic metre; compared with the WHO safe limit of 66.
“The Niger delta already suffers environmental, health and livelihood impacts from decades of oil spill pollution, gas flaring and artisanal refining. This research indicates that it not only experiences the repercussions of producing crude oil, but also in the consumption of dirty official and unofficial fuels,” says the report.
Industry sources monitoring legal and illegal oil cargo movements have claimed that about 80 per cent of Nigeria’s petroleum products come from the Netherlands and Belgium, the two countries hosting some of Europe’s largest refineries.
“This is even more concerning at a time when Nigeria is facing an outbreak of coronavirus. High levels of pollution and pre-existing respiratory and other health conditions may increase the risk that Covid-19 poses to the health of the population,” Matthew Halstead of Noctis, the firm which conducted the laboratory research, says.
The SDN report underscores allegations made in a 2016 Public Eye investigation and a Dutch government report in 2018, that European refineries and commodity brokers were blending crude oil with benzene and other carcinogenic chemicals to create fuels hundreds of times over European pollution limits for the weakly-regulated African market.
This was said to be causing significant particulate pollution, damage to vehicles, and adverse health impacts for local populations.
Nigeria, along with Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Benin promised in 2017 to stop the imports of “Africa quality” oil products as part of a UN environment programme initiative.
But while Ghana has acted by reducing sulphur from 3,000 to 50 parts per million, Nigeria has pleaded for more time to adapt.
But the recent collapse in oil prices occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic means that imported fuel no longer needs to be subsidised and should no longer be a barrier to Nigeria adopting higher standards.
Meanwhile, SDN says illegal artisanal refineries littering the creeks of the Niger Delta are growing fast in number and scale, and now producing five to 20 per cent of all the gasoline and diesel consumed in Nigeria from the estimated 175,000 barrels of crude oil stolen annually.
Although the illegal refineries in the creeks are highly dangerous as they frequently explode, adding to air, water and soil pollution in the mangrove swamps, they remain an important source of income for communities and jobless youths.
According to SDN, if Nigeria insisted on diesel imports that complied with the country’s intended fuel sulphur standards, particulate emissions could be reduced by 500 per cent, greatly improving pollution and reducing health costs.
The report, therefore, recommends that Nigeria enforces its proposed sulphur standards as soon as possible and considers engaging with artisanal oil refiners in the future.