Lagos — Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. Monday said it has shut down a key oil pipeline network in the southeast, following a fire caused by an explosion that was triggered by suspected oil thieves.
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The closure of NNPC System 2E pipeline network at the weekend has disrupted the supply of both imported gasoline and output from the 210,000 b/d Port Harcourt refineries to most of Southeast and the Northern Nigeria, an NNPC spokesman said.
"The oil pipeline fire outbreak along the Osisioma axis near Aba Depot might have been caused by suspected oil thieves who had hacked into the line to intercept flow of petrol from Port Harcourt to Aba," the spokesman said.
"Petrol [gasoline] was being pumped from the Port Harcourt depot when the fire occurred, so the pipeline was shut down as a safety measure," he added.
The spokesman said 16 people died in the inferno, although local media reported Monday that the death toll had risen to 150.
Nigeria's four state-owned refineries with combined capacity of 445,000 b/d of crude have operated in fits and starts partly because of sabotage attacks on pipelines feeding crude to the refineries.
Africa's top crude producer usually imports roughly about 1 million mt of gasoline a month, according to estimates from industry regulators, the Department of Petroleum Resources.
NNPC data showed that the corporation has also had to increase the volume of crude allocated to the direct sale direct purchase scheme, which averaged 75.7% of the total 450,000 b/d of crude Nigeria allocated for domestic consumption in May, in the bid to increase gasoline supply ahead of next February elections.
NNPC's network of over 5,000 km (3,100 miles) of pipelines is often targeted by oil thieves who hack into the facilities to siphon crude or oil products.
Last month, Nigerian white-collar oil workers' Pengassan union called on the government to deploy new strategies urgently to end attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta that hurt the economy and disrupt operations.
--Edited by Jonathan Dart, email@example.com