An explosion at an illegal oil refinery in the state of Rivers in Nigeria killed more than 100 people overnight, an environmental group and a local government official said on Saturday.
“The fire broke out at an illegal bunkering site and it affected over 100 people who were burned beyond recognition,” said State Petroleum Resources Commissioner Goodluck Opiah.
Unemployment and poverty in the oil-producing Niger Delta have made illegal refining of crude oil an attractive business but with fatal consequences. Crude oil is tapped from a network of pipelines owned by large oil companies and refined into products in makeshift tanks.
The dangerous process has led to many fatal accidents and has polluted a region already affected by oil spills in agricultural land, streams and lagoons.
The Youth and Environmental Protection Center said that several vehicles that were in line to buy illegal fuel were burned in the explosion.
At least 25 people, including some children, were killed in an explosion and fire at another illegal refinery in the state of Rivers in October.
In February, local authorities said they had launched a strike to try to stop the refining of stolen crude oil, but with little apparent success.
Government officials estimate that Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and exporter, loses an average of 200,000 barrels of oil per day – more than 10% of production – to those who lose or vandalize pipelines.
This has forced the oil companies to regularly declare force majeure on oil and gas exports.
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