– Artisanal refiners shouldn’t be criminalized
Port Harcourt — The Rotary Club of Port Harcourt Eco says artisanal refineries in the Niger Delta should be studied and upgraded to cellular refineries, in order to tackle the menace of air pollution caused by hydrocarbon soot in Port Harcourt and environs.
The proposal which is a part of the recommendations of the Club, will create a win-win situation for the environment and the government, as the people involved in illegal refining activities would be identified, taxed and their activities regulated by the government.
An Environmental Geologist, Dr Ferdinand Giadom, at the #StopTheSootConference organised by the Rotary Club of Port Harcourt Eco, said since artisanal refining has been identified as one of the sources of soot, it was imperative for the bush refineries to be upgraded and regulated to refine products without harming the environment.
Giadom, who is a lecturer of Geology at the University of Port Harcourt, explained that illegal refiners, commonly known as kpo fire boys, were also helping the society by making products like diesel and kerosene readily available in the country, since the government’s owned refineries have been moribund.
The Geologist recalled that the study conducted by the Stakeholders Democracy Network in 2020 confirmed that AGO refined in the creeks by the so-called illegal refineries, had better quality than the ones imported into the country by NNPC and other oil marketers.
He wondered why artisanal oil refiners were criminalized in the Niger Delta, whereas illegal gold miners in the North were not criminalized or their trade destroyed by the government’s security agencies.
“We have found out that the artisanal refineries contribute to a lot of these particulate matter that manifest as black carbon (soot). We also realize that these artisanal refiners are delivering some service to the society, providing fuels for the economy in cases where our refineries cannot produce.
“The best way is to study and upgrade illegal refineries to cellular refineries. I appreciate that the federal government is giving out license for modular refineries but the scale, size, scope and complexities of managing a normal refinery is beyond the capacity of artisanal refiners.
“I propose that the alternative is cellular refineries, which is micro, small refineries on the scale which these artisans can manage.”
On how the cellular refineries operator will get crude to refine, since artisanal refiners vandalized pipelines to get products, the Geologists explained that the heavy amount of money spent on bribing security agencies by the boys, would be use in purchasing crude legally.
“If they are licensed, we have organized economic activities that is known to government. Their business can be taxed by the government by this the government can raise revenue that’s one win.
“These boys will no longer be flying by night and doing things illegally they now have licences to operate. Because of the crude method they use in refining the crude, a significant fraction of the crude is thrown into the environment, used to fire their refining systems.
“If we put in place cellular refinaries, all the crude oil will be well moduled, the fraction of the crude that is lost and the ones they use in firing their systems can actually be saved in the sense that they can make some good profit from that. With that alone there will be a better financial return that will enable them to purchase crude.
“If we licence them, and we support them as much as possible, then put in place all the safety structures that ensures we don’t unecessarily impact negatively on the environment, that’s a win again for the society, environment and public health, a win for livelihood and economy.
“These artisans if they have a means of livelihood, they will actually earn a living from that and the environment will be safe. The cellular refineries will take care of the soot.”
Earlier, the Chairman, Planning Committee for #StopTheSoot Conference, Iniruo Wills, lamented that for over six years, residents of Port Harcourt have been breathing black soot which can cause cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Wills recalled that two years ago, Port Harcourt was ranked globally as the worst air polluted city in the world.
“We have a very big problem facing the population of Port Harcourt and Rivers State.
This conversation is the beginning of actions that will be implemented, engagement with actors at government level policy levels in the industry, in the informal sector because one thing we have to realise is that there’s a huge informal economy around the soot matter in Port Harcourt.
“It is worth noting that it is not only artisanal experts who have been identified as the drivers or cause of this problem, but there are also others like the IOCs whose operations are not properly regulated and kept to best practices.”
For its part, the Charter President of Rotary Club of Port Harcourt Eco, Emem Okon, said the focus was not about putting blames on anyone, but looking at different sectors and committing to undertaking solutions
“Addressing these issues does not have one solution. It requires policy reforms, awareness campaign, the public understanding the implications of what is being inhaled.”