A Review of the Nigerian Energy Industry

Indiscriminate siting of petroleum tank farms, a ticking time bomb

*Experts warn on dangers of tank farms near residential areas   *Say it’s disaster waiting to happen    *Scientists recommend 100-metre distance

A Lagos tank farm

OpeOluwani Akintayo

01 September 2018, Sweetcrude, Lagos — Investigation by SweetcrudeReports has shown that indiscriminate siting of petroleum tank farms across the country is a ticking bomb waiting to explode.

According to the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, there are over 80 oil tank farms and depots across the country, but, SweetcrudeReports’ findings indicate that at the rate the facilities are spring up, disaster was unavoidable in this regard.

Visits to Apapa, Lagos, and Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, where most of the tank farms are located, showed that the facilities are far too close to residential areas and businesses than the 50-to-100 metre distance recommended by experts, thus posing serious safety, environmental and health dangers to people.

Locations visited by our correspondent are Dockyard Road in Apapa, Lagos; Tincan Island, Lagos; Ijegun Egba, Satellite Town, Lagos as well as Makoba Road, popularly known as Industry Road, Abonima Wharf (waterside) and FLT Road, Onne, all in Port Harcourt. Our correspondent also visited the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, depot in Ejigbo, Lagos, where it was observed that the depot actually shares fences with residential areas.

At Dockyard Road in Apapa, which hosts  tank farms belonging to A-Z Petroleum Products Limited, Aiteo and Nipco, the facilities are only a stone throw from the Nigerian Navy base and and the well-known Golden Penny Flour Mill Nigeria Plc.

Observers, who spoke to SweetcrudeReports, said the closeness of the tank farms to a major location of the Nigerian Navy should be of national security concern and wondered why the authorities should allow the tank farms to exist side by side with an important national asset as the naval base.

In Port Harcourt, it was discovered that the tank farms are so close to residential areas that children could be seen playing around the products pipes and ignorantly throwing stones at them oblivious of the fire that could arise from such dangerous fun.

In one major tank farm fire incident, more than four people died when a vessel discharging fuel into an NNPC depot in Apapa, Lagos, caught fire.

In October 2015, a massive explosion at a tank farm in the Calabar Export Processing Zone left many dead, the causality arising mainly because the facility is located within a residential area.

Earlier this year, fire razed a tank farm belonging to Stallionaire Oil at Ijegun, Satellite Town, Lagos, destroying properties worth millions of naira. No lives were lost but residents of the area, worried by what they described as “incessant fire incidents at the tank farm”, called on the Lagos State government to relocate the tank farms from the area.

The Ibassa Ijegun-Egba Youth Association, which made the call on behalf of the community, said the residents were living in ever danger and perpetual risk as a result of the presence of the tank farms in their midst.

Such are the menace of tank farms, more so when they are sited within or near residential areas and other businesses.

Safety and health hazards

It was gathered that uncountable number of lives and properties have been lost in Nigeria to fire in fuel stations and tank farms located in close proximity with residential areas. Also, health experts have linked petroleum tank farms and depots to health hazards. According to them, emissions from petrol additives such as methyl tertiary-butyl ether, MTBE, and other 149 chemicals in petrol, are of danger to humans and other animals as they pollute the air and make water undrinkable, which is why the addition of these chemicals in petrol has been outlawed in many countries. These additives are, however, not yet banned in Nigeria.

Studies by scientists at the NIH’s National Library of Medicine in the United States have also shown that continuous exposure to gasoline, whether in liquid or vapour form, can cause lung, brain and kidney damage.

Researchers also say that pollution from petrol stations and tank farms could contaminate buildings as far as 100 metres away. According to them, a minimum distance of 50 metres should be maintained between petrol stations and residential buildings, and the recommended distance from vulnerable facilities like hospitals, health care centres, maternity homes, schools and old people’s homes is 100 metres.

According to Marta Doval of the University of Murcia in Spain, “some airborne organic compounds – such as benzene which increases the risk of cancer – have been recorded at petrol stations and tank farms at levels above the average levels for urban areas where traffic is the primary source of emission”.

Besides, research carried out in France showed that children living near petrol stations, tank farms or depots or automotive garages had a quadrupled risk of leukaemia, and the risk of developing acute non-lymphoblastic leukaemia will be seven times greater compared with children who live in the same area but not closed to the oil facilities.

According to them, air in the immediate vicinity of these facilities is often polluted with airborne particles from evaporated fuel and therefore harmful to local residents.

Dr. Omatshola Iseli agreed that citing of gas stations and tank farms around residential areas “pollute the air”, adding that the fact that activities take place around those places almost 24 hours – movement of oil tankers, noise of heavy duty equipment, noise from big generators – can be a big nuisance to residents.

Dockyard Road

Many of those who work or do business in the area fear that in the event of fire at the tank farms, containing such from doing damage will not come easy. Besides, they also fear about the health and safety dangers posed by the presence of the tank farms.

During the visit to the area, residuals of petroleum products were seen to have caused thick fogs on water seen inside drainages and water in the water-based areas.

SweetcrudeReports spotted some hawkers who lined up their goods in front of the long wall encamping the tanks.

While speaking to some of them, it was gathered that dark thick smoke or gases often come out from pipes located on top of the tanks.

Unaware of the long-time health effect inhaling of such emissions could cause, residents and others doing petty business there ignorantly claimed that the waste had “never” posed any risk to their health.

Olanrewaju Memood, a petrol hawker told SweetcrudeReports that they “sometimes see dark smoke and vapourlike substance coming from waste pipes on top of the tanks”.

“Sometimes we see black smoke from those pipes on top the tanks. And sometimes, we see white smoke coming out,” he said.

When asked if he or anyone around there has fallen ill as a result of the waste emission, he simply replied, “No. we are fine”.

But a woman, who sat under an umbrella not far from the gate of A-Z Petroleum, where she prepares fruits and cooked corn to take to the workers during lunch time, said, “If you come here sometimes, your nose and eyes will be peppering you”.

“We are used to bad smell (from the tank farms)”, a slim looking road-side trader who sells assorted painkillers and medication to workers, other roadside traders and tanker drivers said, pointing to the tanks.

Another trader seen pushing his ‘drugs’ around in a cart, revealed that some of them (residents, tank farm workers and even tanker drivers) come for “prescriptions” for shortness of breath.

“I sell medicine to them. Some people here complain sometimes that they cannot breathe well. You know that the smell of the gas blocks people’s heart? Thank God, I am always here and I use to give them medicine,” he said.

Tincan Island tank farms

Apart from Dockyard Road, where there are tank farms belonging to A-Z Petroleum Products Limited, Aiteo and Nipco, the Tincan Island area of Lagos also hosts a good number of tank farms – those belonging to Integrated Oil & Gas, Total,  Ashrami Synergy owned by Sahara Group, Golf Treasure operated by the Ibru Group, Ascon Oil, Spog, Aquitane and Ibeto. The case with the location of these tank farms is not different from that of Dockyard Road: On the opposite side of the road are residential areas as well as such companies as Ecobank, Zenith Bank, Umunze House, Capital Oil Bank House, among others. The menace of tankers in this area is well known. Tincan Island is dreaded for hundreds of tankers, which occupy the important Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, leading to the Tincan Island port and the premier port at Apapa. In fact, the tankers, waiting to lift fuel from the tank farms, are known to block the entire road, holding up traffic that cost government and private businesses around the axis billions of naira. The huge number of tankers and trailers plying the road have contributed greatly in damaging the road.

“As you can see, the road is bad. It has been like this for many years and government is not concerned about it despite the money they collect from owners of the depots. Look at pot holes everywhere. Once those drivers (tanker drivers) arrive, they block the whole area. Even the black smoke from their vehicles cause a lot of problems here – the most noticeable problem is the cough they cause when they release their black smokes,” Mr. Joseph Simon told our correspondent as he sat beside his kiosk.

According to president of the Dangote Group and Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Nigeria loses about N140 billion weekly to the traffic gridlock arising from the presence of tankers and other heavy duty vehicles in Apapa.

Ijegun Egba, Satellite Town

MAO Petroleum Company Limited, Emaded Energy, A.A. Rano, Chipet, Stallionaire and Firstroyal have their tank farms at Ijegun-Egba area, popularly known as Waterside/Newsite, at Satellite Town in Lagos. There are over 30 gigantic tanks in the tank farms. Over 50 petroleum products tankers park on the road leading to the farms, with attendant mushroom businesses that had sprang up on the road and around the tank farms.

SweetcrudeReports gathered that although the entire tank farm area and its immediate environs were originally marked for the building of fuel depots, the government later started giving out the land to individuals, who now built their houses very close o the tank farms.

During our visit to the site, some residents went about their daily activities seemingly unperturbed by the potential danger posed by the presence of the tank farms and the activities around the depots. The explosion at the Stallionaire tank farm had happened only in January. Some still remember it as they insist that the presence of the tank farms constituted a major danger and that it was a time bomb waiting to explode.

“That incident was dangerous. I still remember it very well. We thanked God, no lives were lost, but mere seeing the fire, the big, very hot fire, you would think the world is coming to an end,” a resident, who simply identified himself as Musurat told our correspondent.

Many of the residents are also calling for the relocation of the tanks farms. According to Mr. Kelechi Onwuanyi, government should relocate the tank farms from Ijegun-Egba and Apapa as well as other locations across the country to “safer environment”. He called for the establishment of a tank farm colony by government well outside the cities to accommodate the existing tank farms and others that will spring up in the future, saying this will solve the twin problem of tanker menace especially in Lagos and the danger the tank farms posed to the safety of people.

When the Stallionaire Oil fire incident happened in January, the Ibassa Ijegun-Egba Youth Association had also called for the relocation of the tank farms.

Taofeek Odunewu, the chairman of the association, alleged that the January fire was the third of such in the area as he accused operators of the facilities of failure to build a central fire fighting facility to combat possible fire.

According to him, many lives would have been lost if not for the Lagos Fire Service that came to the rescue.

He further stated: “The oil depots did not carry out environmental impact assessment before commencing their operations.

“We have more than 12 tank farms operating in the community, some of which are A.A. RANO, Emadeb Energy, Wosbab, Chipet Nig. Ltd., Star Oil and Gas and Bond Global Energy Ltd. “Others are Mao Petroleum Company, Stallionaire Nig. Ltd., First Deep Water, Menj Oil and Ocean Pride Oil.All these tank farms did not have a fire-fighting boat in case of fire in their depots.

“We are appealing to the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode to relocate the oil depots from our community because our people are not safe. Government should not wait until an explosion from the tank farms consumes us”.

The real cause of the ugly incident appears to have been lost amidst allegations and counter-allegations. It came few days after the fire incident of Second Coming gas plant located in Magodo area of Lagos, which reportedly left two people dead and several millions of property destroyed.

It was observed during our visit to Ijegun-Egba that residents have had to cope with dilapidated roads caused by the oil tankers, plying the long road daily.

Aside the road leading into the depot premises, which appeared well tarred, the roads in the immediate neighbourhoods of the depots are in very bad state. SweetcrudeReports noticed that not more than one vehicle could go through the road at a time as one part of the narrow road was already blocked by tankers.

Roadside drainages have also been blocked by mixture of dirt as residuals of petroleum products were seen floating on them.

Part of the sand around the depots, including ‘green’ areas which could have been used for farming have also turned black as a result of oil spillage. The top part of grasses in the area have also turned yellow: and although there is an expanse of land around the area, no farming could take place there except for fisher men whose boats were seen adorning the waterways. Even at that, they complain of contamination of the waterways.

“When that explosion happened earlier in the year, many people lost their properties,” a passersby who introduced herself as Tolu Jimson told this newspaper.

It was learnt that the area gets flooded during heavy rainfall. SweetcrudeReports saw many empty and abandoned houses left by residents allegedly due to flooding, which one Mr. Taiwo said, was a result of the tankers damaging the roads. The residents are leaving because of lack of good access roads, Taiwo said.

At the Folawiyo depot located at Creek Road, Apapa, it was observed that the depot has been overtaken by civilisation clusters of residential buildings now exist almost next door to the depot premises. Although fenced off from the prying eyes of the public, yet, the Folawiyo depot is perhaps the closest to residential houses.

An abnormal situation noticed was that one of the two lanes of the road beside the Folawiyo depot had been exclusively reserved or abandoned for tankers going in and out of the depot. No other vehicle was seen using the road, even when there was space for any other vehicle to do so.

Children playing near the pipes of a petroleum tank farm in Port Harcourt

Journey to Port Harcourt

SweetcrudeReport’s three-day sojourn in Port Harcourt was an eye-opener to a somewhat dangerous lifestyle of some people with regard to their proximity and exposure to oil and gas facilities.

Tank farms or depot locations visited in Port Harcourt are Makoba Road, Abonima Wharf (watersise) and FLT Road, Onne.

Findings at Makoba Road, also known as Industry Road, revealed a shocking sight of people living a reckless lifestyle- face to face with oil tunnels.

The area, which houses tanks owned by Ibeto, Conoil and Petrolog, is also home to several other high-flying industries closely sited around.

SweetcrudeReports found a huge aluminium oil pipeline existing in the middle of a cluster of residential houses, in one of which the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, has an office.

Being the early hours of the day when SweetcrudeReports visited, children in their pyjamas were seen innocently playing and throwing stones at the pipeline, oblivious that pipeline contained a product which fire could wipe out an entire community.

As if that was not enough cause for alarm, even the adults, who should caution the younger ones, were sighted comfortably sitting on the oil pipes, chatting away, with one of the men smoking a stick of cigarette.

SweetcrudeReports could not get the residents to share their experiences living around the hazardous area, as the reporter was harassed by the residents who saw the reporter as a threat especially since she was a stranger and had “no business being around the area”.

The situation is a bit different at Abonema Wharf waterside as the tanks there, numbering about 20, sit quite far away from the residential area. However, companies, especially banks, including the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, have offices just opposite the tanks location.

Over 50 tankers were spotted lined up on the battered road leading to the tanks to load either kerosene, petrol or diesel, causing slow movement of other vehicles.

The road-side drainages were also observed to be littered with dirt and covered by petroleum products stain. Farming is almost impossible there as the sand has turned black and oily with petroleum products stains. An office apartment belonging to NUPENG is located within this area.

Due to the activities of petty traders and tanker drivers in the area, the ground close to the Police post right at the entrance of the depot, which is surrounded by canteens, was seen to be ‘battered’ with human faeces and urine.

However, despite the unhealthiness of the area, hungry traders and drivers were seen patronising the food vendors’ shops not too far from the dunging site – dump of human faeces. Experts warn that closeness to faeces could cause an outbreak of airborne diseases capable of being carried by the wind as far as 100 metres.

At FLT Road, Onne, a school, some banks and industries flanked the depot in the area belonging to Oando and Forte Oil.

Guidelines for siting of filling stations and tank farms

Spokesperson for the Department of Petroleum Resources, Paul Osu, told SweetcrudeReports that in issuing licenses for operation of filling stations and tank farms, the agency considered the title document and letter of allocation, and made sure the land was in conformity with the land use provision.

“We cannot give an approval, rather it has to be a designated part of the master plan that is meant for petroleum filling station and tank farms, so that is the first thing that we consider.

“Secondly, if that one is satisfied, then we will request for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, and that EIA must favour the requirement for the development of a filling station and tank farm, and then we have the fire service report from the Federal Fire Service, they have to look at it and then give us their own report. If it (their report) is favourable, they (Federal Fire Service) have to make a submission to notify that the filling station and tank farm will not cause any hazard in the neighbourhood,” he said.

Speaking on why some filling stations and tank farms exist in residential areas or too close to residential areas or office complexes, he said “that is the essence of the Environmental Impact Assessment”.

According to him, in situations where such facilities would be sited not too far from residential areas, such facilities must have high fences and the owners of such facilities must get approval letters from the residents.

Chairman and chief executive officer of Tee Mac Petroleum Nigeria Limited, TMPNL, Dr. Tee Mac Omatshola Iseli, told SweetcrudeReports that, indeed, siting of fuel stations and tank farms in residential areas was “totally wrong and I know that there are laws and regulations existing that residential areas are only for private living”. “Not even hotels or churches or mosques should be sited around residential areas.  They (owners of the tank farms etc) can be prosecuted if the authorities are being alerted,” he said.

The Nigerian factor

Dr. Iseli agreed that siting of fuel stations and tank farms around residential area “pollute the air”, adding that the fact that activities take place around those places almost on 24-hour basis – arrivals of oil tankers – and noise of heavy duty equipment, including those of big generators, can be a big nuisance to residents.

But, he noted that the location of these facilities indiscriminately could be traced to corruption, stressing that “both local and state governments are easily corrupted to accept bribes and look the other way”.

“When we have a strong government, this will not happen”, he added.

Secretary General/Chief Executive Officer, Lubricants Producers Association of Nigeria, LUPAN, Emeka Obidike, attributed indiscriminate siting of fuel stations and tank farms in the country to sharp malpractices between the regulatory bodies and operators.

He said: “It is alarming how tank farms and filling stations are cited indiscriminately. Look at Kirikiri and Navy Town, for example; the tank farms are so close to the armouries. Any little ignition will set the whole-area ablaze,” he said, adding: “The Federal Government needs to step in urgently and ensure the relocation of any filling station around residential areas. The regulatory bodies should avoid compromising in the issuance of licenses to operate filling stations and tank farms.”

Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, said Nigeria probably has the highest number of filling stations and tank farms, and some are sited too close to each other.

‘’It is amazing to see the stations with iron gates. Gated petrol filling stations or tank farms stand out as very unsafe places because in cases of accidents, escape would be restricted. And the new stations are built like office or residential blocks. All point to the fact that we have forgotten the fact that they ought to be service stations, not office or residential blocks”.

“It is very unsafe to cite petrol stations or tank farms within residential quarters. The fact that they are allowed is a mark of a failure of the enforcement of our town planning regulations,” he further stated.

Playing the blame game

SweetcrudeReports observes that there are controversies between the Department of Petroleum Resources and the Lagos State Ministry of Urban and Physical Development over who should be blamed for accidents associated with the careless siting of such facilities in residential areas.

Mr Osu of the Department of Petroleum Resources told this Newspaper that his agency only relies on the report and approval given to companies seeking to site oil and gas stations or depots in an area by the Ministry and other agencies before issuing licenses to applicants seeking to operate such facilities.

According to him, periodically, the agency does checks on the stations as part of its efforts to partner other agencies with a view to minimising accidents in the areas where the stations are sited.

The DPR Director, Mordecai Ladan, stated that the agency had been clamping down on illegal facilities, maintaining that the agency collaborates with other agencies and relevant stakeholders to tackle the challenges.

But an official of the Lagos State Ministry of Urban and Physical Planning, who pleaded not to be named as he was not in position to speak, said there were occasions where some stations were sited in an unsuitable location without the approval of the Ministry.

According to him, it is usually difficult to immediately clamp down on the stations due to various interests.

Call for action

Dr. Omatshola Iseli advised that residents in areas with indiscriminately sited facilities must report immediately to their local government and put pressure to stop the illegal actions.

Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr Wasiu Anifowose, said government was committed to ensuring safety of the residents as well as proper regulation of the environment.

The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Abubakar Mahmoud, recently advised town planners to wake up to their responsibility of regulating building construction in the country, saying: “Our town planners and bye-laws should not allow filling stations and tank farms to be sited near residential areas”.

A town planner, Ade Fasanya, advised that petrol station and tank farm lands should be zoned for commercial/industrial use or be designated specifically for the purpose, and should be located at a minimum of 500 feet away from any public institution such as schools, churches, public libraries, auditoriums, hospitals, public playgrounds, etc.

According to him, petrol pumps shall be located a minimum of 100 feet from any residential building while stations should be equipped with fire-fighting and fire protection equipment in accordance with the requirements of the Fire Department.

The FCT Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, Director General, Abbass Idriss, said all the regulatory authorities mandated to issue license for the establishment of filling stations and tank farms should be diligent in their work.

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