ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — An explosion and fire near an illegal oil refinery in Nigeria’s Niger Delta killed at least 12 people on Friday, police said, though local residents reported a much higher death toll. in the fire raged for hours.
The explosion in the Emuoha council area of southern Rivers state occurred along a pipeline targeted by illegal refinery operators trying to steal oil, said Grace Iringe-Koko, a state police spokesman.
“We are aware that there was an explosion related to bunkering activities,” she said, adding that authorities were working to determine the number of casualties and the cause of the incident.
People in the area told The Associated Press that dozens may have died in the blaze, which raged for hours, and that the victims were mostly young people who planned to siphon oil from a pipeline and take it to an illegal refinery in at least five vehicles. transport.
Fyneface Dumnamene, executive director of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, said a spark from the exhaust of a canister full of gallons of crude oil caused the explosion as the driver tried to leave.
“Everyone in about five vehicles there was all burned,” Dumnamene told the AP.
Illegal refineries are a lucrative business in Nigeria, one of Africa’s largest oil producers. They are rampant in the oil-rich region of the Niger Delta, where most of the country’s oil facilities are located.
Workers at such facilities rarely adhere to safety standards, leading to frequent fires, including last year in Imo state that killed more than 100 people.
Nigeria lost at least $3 billion worth of crude oil to theft between January 2021 and February 2022. Shady operators often evade regulators by setting up refineries in remote areas like the one in Imo, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) said last year.