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Nigeria: Explosion at illegal oil refinery site kills 15, including pregnant woman

The Niger Delta is an impoverished but oil-rich region that contributes most to Nigeria's wealth. Operators often set up illegal refineries in remote areas to avoid regulators.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Abuja Published on: October 03, 2023 20:03 IST
At least 100 people were killed in an illegal oil refinery
Image Source : AP At least 100 people were killed in an illegal oil refinery in Nigeria.

At least 15 people, including a pregnant woman, were killed in Nigeria's Niger Delta region following an explosion and a fire at an illegal oil refinery site, according to residents and a local environmental rights group on Tuesday.

The blast occurred on Monday in the Emohua district of Nigeria's Rivers State. Residents suggested that the death toll was likely to rise further as many bodies were completely charred while dozens were injured.

Most of the people who perished were believed to be working at the illegal refinery at Rumucholu village. Details are awaited by the Nigerian police. The workers were reportedly refining oil from a vandalised pipe.

"When they scoop from the point where they vandalized the pipe, they will take to where they were cooking. That is how the fire got there," said a local activist.

A pregnant woman was among the 15 victims confirmed dead, according to a statement issued by the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, a local environmental rights group. Explosions at such refineries are common in Nigeria.

Illegal oil refineries in Nigeria

The Niger Delta region is an impoverished region but is oil-rich, supplying most of Nigeria's wealth. However, most of Nigeria's oil facilities are targeted by chronic oil theft, causing the country to lose its status as Africa's largest crude producer to Angola and slip in the ranks of most oil-producing African countries.

From April to September last year, more than 100 suspected oil thieves have been arrested and authorities have seized 30 billion naira ($70 million) worth of oil assets. To go back further, Nigeria lost at least $3 billion worth of crude oil to theft between January 2021 and February 2022, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission said last year.

To add to the concern, operators set up illegal refineries in remote areas to avoid regulators. Workers at such shady facilities do not adhere much to safety standards leading to frequent fires and explosions. However, operators make a huge amount of cash through such refineries.

In April last year, at least 100 people were killed in an explosion at an illegal oil refinery in Imo State, which was triggered by a fire at two fuel storage areas. Dozens of workers were caught up in the explosion while many others attempted to escape the blaze by running into wooded areas.

In February this year, 12 people were killed in an explosion at a similar refinery in the Niger Delta region.

(with AP inputs)

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