At least 80 people have died in an explosion at an illegal oil refinery in southeastern Nigeria, emergency officials say. The disaster highlights the country’s problems with oil theft amid high levels of poverty.
An explosion at an illegal oil refinery between the southern Nigerian oil states of Rivers and Imo has killed at least 80 people, police and government officials said on Sunday.
The blast occurred on late on Friday, police confirmed.
“The incident claimed several lives, especially those engaged in the illegal oil refining and bunkering,” said Idris Musa, director general of Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency.
What do we know about the blast?
More than 100 people, mostly youths, might have died in the explosion and ensuing fire, media reports said.
Although the reason for the blast is unknown, it might have occurred during the process of refining crude oil, which involves boiling it by means of fire.
Musa said an investigation into the disaster was underway.
What happens at illegal oil refineries?
Oil thieves, vandals and illegal refining operators siphon off some 200,000 barrels of crude oil daily in Nigeria, according to industry operators.
The oil is tapped from a web of pipelines owned by major oil companies and refined into products in makeshift tanks at the illegal refineries, which flourish among poverty that is widespread despite the country being the biggest oil producer on the continent.
The refineries, scattered among the creeks, swamps and waters of the oil-rich Niger Delta, are not only prone to accidents but also cause spills and pollution.
Pipeline fires are also commonplace in Nigeria, partly because of poor maintenance but also because they are vandalized by thieves aiming to siphon off petrol and sell it on the black market.
A pipeline blast in the southern town of Jesse in October 1998 killed more than 1,000 villagers, with the government blaming the disaster on such thieves, though local residents said the pipeline was not maintained properly.
Nigeria has a crude oil output of around two million barrels per day.