Cal­abar Tank Farm Ex­plo­sion: The hand­writ­ing on the Wall

Ikenna Ife­dobi writes that the re­cent fire in­ci­dent at the Linc Oil and Gas Tank Farm, in the Cal­abar Ex­port Pro­cess­ing zone is a pre­cur­sor to the mon­u­men­tal dev­as­ta­tion that awaits Nige­ria, es­pe­cially in Apapa, should the gov­ern­ment fail to take ur­gent s

THISDAY - - BUSINESS WORLD - Is a con­sul­tant of the Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum In­sti­tute (API) and an econ­o­mist based in Amer­ica. Email: iken­naife­dobi@ gmail.com

It was Ben­jamin Franklin, a found­ing fa­ther of Amer­ica that once said, “By fail­ing to pre­pare, you are pre­par­ing to fail”. Ac­cord­ing to Mur­phy’s Law, “any­thing that may go wrong will”. There­fore it is wise to be pre­pared for the po­ten­tial mishaps con­sis­tent with any hu­man ac­tiv­ity. Even ants gather food ahead of time for the win­ter season. In the case of the Nige­rian oil in­dus­try and the present anom­alies, one can per­ceive the ef­fects of decades of ne­glect cul­mi­nat­ing into what may be­come a string of pre­ventable catas­tro­phes.

Not too long ago, there was a mas­sive ex­plo­sion and fire at the Linc Oil and Gas Tank Farm, lo­cated in the Cal­abar Ex­port Pro­cess­ing zone. Many lives were lost. The ac­tual cause of the ex­plo­sion is un­known but news me­dia re­ported that it may have been from an over­flow and spill, or il­le­gal bunker­ing while the prod­uct was be­ing trans­ferred from the ship into the tank fa­cil­ity. Re­gard­less, such mishaps are pre­ventable and should not hap­pen in a coun­try that has stan­dards and in­dus­trial ethics.

This ex­plo­sion is just a pre­cur­sor to the mon­u­men­tal dev­as­ta­tion that awaits Nige­ria, es­pe­cially in Apapa. As I had ear­lier warned in the ar­ti­cles ti­tled “Apapa tank farm: Nige­ria’s hid­den dan­ger” and Apapa tank farm...: a dis­as­ter in the mak­ing”; both ob­tain­able on­line, the re­al­ity of tank farm mishaps es­pe­cially in Apapa is a mat­ter of when and not if. You have a mas­sive tank com­plex of about 200 tanks that holds a ma­jor per­cent­age of the fuel for the en­tire na­tion. All the in­dus­tries are de­pen­dent on this fuel, and in fact the en­tire economy needs this fuel to func­tion. The fa­cil­ity just like oth­ers has no ju­ris­dic­tional stan­dard and over­sight to en­sure that cer­tain leak de­tec­tion equip­ment is in­stalled. There is no third party au­dit sys­tem; the in­spec­tion his­tory and me­chan­i­cal in­teg- rity of the tanks are highly ques­tion­able, the fire­fight­ing equip­ment is al­most nonex­is­tent, the en­tire area in­clud­ing the bridges are lined up with heavy duty pe­tro­leum tankers, all car­ry­ing highly ex­plo­sive prod­ucts, and the

Apapa area is re­spon­si­ble for over 80 per­cent of im­port and ex­port busi­ness. In the ar­ti­cles I gave a de­tailed sce­nario of ex­plo­sions in other (smaller) fa­cil­i­ties in the world. PMS or Petrol is one of the most ex­plo­sive sub­stances known to man, a leak­ing valve or com­pro­mised pipe can spell doom not just for the en­tire La­gos state, but for the en­tire coun­try, plung­ing it into a long age of dark­ness. Once again, this

is still pre­ventable. In the case of the re­cent Cal­abar ex­plo­sion, just

a few things could have been done to pre­vent the sit­u­a­tion and save lives and prop­erty. Re­gard­less of whether the leak was from bunker­ing or not, a leak de­tec­tion sys­tem con­sist­ing of au­to­mated wire­less probes would im­me­di­ately alert the au­thor­i­ties of the lo­ca­tion, na­ture and ex­tent of the leak. Auto shut-off sys­tems would in­stantly be ini­ti­ated to stop fur­ther leak­age, and in­dus­trial sprin­klers strate­gi­cally placed would neu­tral­ize the leak­ing prod­uct. The en­tire re­sponse would be im­me­di­ate and se­quen­tial. The crux of the mat­ter how­ever is that there ap­pears to be no ju­ris­dic­tional stan­dard gov­ern­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of these fa­cil­i­ties. The safety equip­ment herein men­tioned should be stan­dard for any­one run- ning such a busi­ness, mainly be­cause of the vo­latil­ity and dan­ger of the sub­stances in­volved, and how it can af­fect other non-re­lated parts of the so­cio-economy. The rip­ple ef­fect should man­date the gov­ern­ment to en­sure that these safety equip­ment and other safety mea­sures like pe­ri­odic 3rd party in­spec­tions ac­cord­ing to API rec­om­men­da­tions are the min­i­mum ac­cept­able stan­dard. The Cal­abar ex­plo­sion showed that even the slight­est mis­take can re­sult in unimag­in­able catas­tro­phe. Tank farms should be looked at as sit­ting bombs, thus when one tank goes, the re­main­ing will most likely ex­plode too.

Nige­ri­ans must ask them­selves why even to­day with all the af­ford­able high tech safety equip­ment avail­able, does the gov­ern­ment not in­sti­tute min­i­mum safety stan­dards in the tank farm sec­tor? Why are there no au­dits and me­chan­i­cal in­tegrity 3rd party in­spec­tors to make sure that the gov­ern­ment ju­ris­dic­tion is not be­ing vi­o­lated? And if so where are the re­ports? Why in the face of such a dis­as­trous time bomb like the Apapa tank farm has the gov­ern­ment not taken the right steps to man­age this sec­tor prop­erly and see to it that a pre­ventable sit­u­a­tion will not amount to a na­tional catas­tro­phe? Is this not the same as the prover­bial ‘play­ing with fire’? Why are the au­thor­i­ties play­ing with a

fire that will send the en­tire economy into a dark age once ig­nited?

Bear in mind that Nige­ria is the foun­da­tion of the West African re­gional economy. Any neg­a­tive eco­nomic shocks from pre­ventable dis­as­ters will not only be highly re­gret­table, but will pull the other sub economies in West Africa into a mas­sive eco­nomic sink­hole. Nige­ria and its as­so­ci­ated ag­gre­gate de­mand in­dices props up most of the re­gional sub economies. There­fore a Nige­rian dis­as­ter would also be an en­tire West African dis­as­ter.

Given that Nige­ria can­not seem to re­fine its own crude oil into fu­els, the least it could do is safe­guard the im­ported prod­uct very well, and in this re­gard the gov­ern­ment and as­so­ci­ated agen­cies are re­spon­si­ble for ref­er­ee­ing the en­tire process. Nige­ri­ans must be made to un­der­stand what kind of mon­u­men­tal dan­ger they face with the Apapa com­plex, given the lax na­ture of the ac­tiv­i­ties therein. The oil min­is­ter must im­me­di­ately be­gin to take steps to ad­dress and pre­vent this wa­ter­loo.

En­gi­neer­ing safe­guards, ad­min­is­tra­tive mea­sures, se­cu­rity, ju­ris­dic­tional stan­dards, 3rd party in­spec­tions, ar­chiv­ing and doc­u­men­ta­tion, and the to­tal re­form of the tank farm busi­ness are all on the ta­ble and de­mand ex­pe­di­tious at­ten­tion. The lat­est mishap in Cal­abar is just a warn­ing and the tip of the ice­berg. A stitch in time saves nine. The proper ex­perts must be con­sulted and a con­crete and con­cise plan mapped out to safe­guard the golden goose of the Nige­rian economy. With all the so­cio- po­lit­i­cal up­heavals the coun­try is fac­ing, will­ful sab­o­tage can­not be over­looked and the quicker the gov­ern­ment moves in to es­tab­lish the proper en­vi­ron­ment for the tank farm sec­tor, the safer the en­tire coun­try and West African re­gion would be. The time to act is now.

- Ife­dobi

Cal­abar tank farm fire

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