A report has revealed that oil theft has replaced activities of militants, with Nigeria losing 100,000 barrels daily, running into trillions of naira.
The report by Bloomberg showed that between 2014 and 2019, millions of barrels of crude oil have been lost to theft, with as high as 100,000 barrels stolen daily in the last few months.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc said in a report last month that saboteurs including thieves caused an 80% increase in the number of oil spills in 2018.
These come against the backdrop of relative cessation of hostilities by Niger Delta militants, and the industry has not recorded any militant-related halts to operations since 2016.
On one level, the report noted, theft is probably a more palatable option for Nigeria and the companies operating there than attacks by militants. About 100,000 barrels a day are being taken out of pipelines, whereas militancy halted at least eight times that amount at one stage three years ago.
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The increase reflects a belief among local communities that multinationals don't really own the oil resources in the first place, according to LedumMitee, a lawyer and minority rights activist.
Commenting on the trend, Mitee told Bloomberg that oil thieves know they can make money instead of just sabotaging pipelines for political reasons.
"They believe the oil is theirs and the government is the thief. "People now realize that instead of just cutting pipelines to spite the government, they can make money out of it," he said.
According to sources in the oil region, much of the stolen crude is processed in tiny, makeshift refineries comprising hundreds of cauldrons, each of which can hold as much as 150 barrels of oil.
Many companies have been affected, leading to several force majeures, the Shell report noted.
Aiteo Group, operator of the Nembe Creek Trunk Line to Shell's Bonny export terminal, has been one of the hardest hit this year, halting flows through the link at least three times since January.
Shell lost an average of 11,000 barrels a day to theft in 2018, it said. That's up from losses of 9,000 barrels of crude a day in 2017.
Chevron Corp. has also reported problems with third-party interference on its production facilities.
ChetaNwanze, Head of research at SBM Intelligence, said: "Oil theft is a severe drain on Nigeria's revenue.
The losses to theft could easily fund Nigeria's budget deficit."
Speaking at a strategic review meeting last month, NuhuRibadu, Chairman of Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force said the federal government loses as much as $25 million (N7.7 billion) daily and $9 billion (N2.8 trillion) annually to oil theft.