Local or Artisanal refining of crude oil is a lucrative but dangerous business in the Niger Delta region of the country.
Despite the huge environmental and health hazards that characterize the practice, it has equally created economic opportunities for those involved in the informal sector in various communities in the area.
Some Environmentalists in the area say the practice is an admixure of dangers and prospects .
Artisanal refining of crude oil in the Niger Delta has become an alternative economic venture in communities in the region.
In the absence of alternative credible livelihoods, ‘local refining’ has continued to thrive and provide alternative means of supplying petroleum products, and tackling unemployment and poverty in the Niger Delta.
This practice provides communities with employment opportunities and fills the supply gap of refined fuel and other products in the area.
In an industry that fills an economic vacuum where local communities suffer the impacts of oil extraction but see none of the economic benefits coupled with inability to provide basic public services as well as corruption by political elites, communities view artisanal refining as doing what they can to survive in the absence of mainstream livelihoods.
A report indicates that the local industry is worth around over 4 Billion Naira per month or 52 billion Naira each year. This far exceeds the revenues reaching affected communities through local government allocations.
A 2011 United Nations Environment Programme report indicates that there are several artisanal refining sites numbering over four hundred found along the creeks, usually identified from a long distance with a dark plume of smoke of fire in the atmosphere.
Artisanal refining is having a dramatic socio-economic and political impact on communities and stability in the region with environmental pollution, threats to public health and food security, loss of revenue to government as consequences and contributes to cult rivalries, arms proliferation and emergence of overlords and gang leaders.
Chairman of the Nigeria Environmental Society in Bayelsa State, Mr. Henry Eteli who attributes the existence of artisanal refinery to the challenge of survival calls on government to formalise the practice by engaging the artisans.
An Environmentalist, Mr. Henry Adike stressed that artisanal refineries at the moment result in losses to the environment urging the Authorities to modernize and reorganize their operations.
Public Affairs Analyst, Mr. Bekinwari David West is of the view that the environmental pollution and degradation arising from artisanal refineries could be reduced drastically if government could engage the operators formally and provide regulation and supervision.
Though the Hydrocarbon Oil Refineries Act 1965 No. 17 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria views artisanal refining of hydrocarbon as a criminal enterprise, stating that, “no person shall refine any hydrocarbon oils save in a refinery and under a license issued under this Act, experts say reviewing this legislation and formalizing their operations may be key to addressing some of the challenges evident in the practice for the gain of the nation.