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Oily but deadly: How 308 deaths haunt oil sector

 Over 308 people, mostly Nigerians, have died from accidents while working in the Nigerian oil and gas industry in the last seven years, a Daily…

 Over 308 people, mostly Nigerians, have died from accidents while working in the Nigerian oil and gas industry in the last seven years, a Daily Trust estimate has shown.

The number of deaths was arrived at from a collation of official data on fatal accidents in the oil and gas industry obtained from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) between 2012 and 2015, media reports, as well as operational incident reports contained in oil companies’ annual statistics from 2015 to date.

The number of deaths calculated are mere estimates computed from figures either officially reported by the industry regulator or those confirmed by oil companies. Hundreds of oil industry fatalities occur yearly that are hardly reported or get to public notice.

The oil industry is Nigeria’s main revenue earner, and stories that frequently feature about it in the news are about fluctuations in crude oil price, juicy labour earnings by workers, as well as billions of dollars investment companies and the government are making to find more oil.

But issues about investments to guarantee industry workers’ safety are hardly heard until major disasters strike.

The DPR report of the oil and gas industry activities in 2015 shows that death toll in the oil and gas industry hit 217 from 2010 to 2015. The deaths were recorded from 298 incidents reported industry-wide within the five-year period.

Analysis of the statistics shows that out of the 298 incidents, 148 were work related while 150 were non-work related. While 132 of the incidents were fatal, 166 were non-fatal. Out of the 132 fatal incidents, 46 were work related, whereas 86 deaths were non-work related.

Work related incidents refer to incidents that occur in the course of direct work. For instance; slips, trips and falls that occur while working were common causes of fatalities recorded.

Non-work related incidents include road or air traffic accidents (conveying workers) and other causes.

Further analysis of the data shows that the number of fatalities in the industry rose by 244 per cent between 2010 and 2015. 25 fatalities were recorded in 2010 compared to 86 in 2015. The highest deaths of 86 within the years under review was recorded in 2015 from 49 incidents compared to 50 reported incidents in 2010 that led to 25 deaths in 2010.

The computations show that the country’s upstream subsector where exploration and production activities mostly take place recorded the most deaths. Over 181 fatalities were recorded from 245 incidents.

The downstream aspect that deals with refining, crude oil and gas processing, marketing and distribution of petroleum products accounted for 56 deaths from 53 incidents.

Independent research of oil and gas industry mortality conducted by Daily Trust shows that over 91 died from a number of industry incidents that occurred from 2016 till date, bringing the total so far to 308 mortalities.

Death instead of oil

The latest widely recorded deaths is the killing of an NNPC team on a mission to find oil in the Lake Chad Basin.

More than 50 were reported killed in the Boko Haram ambush on an oil exploration team in the North East earlier in July 2017, but the NNPC confirmed that exploration workers killed were 10; comprising consultants, academic staff, drivers and contractors. Five of them were staff from the University of Maiduguri (UniMaid). Vice-Chancellor of UniMaid, Prof. Ibrahim Njodi, confirmed the number.

Therefore, only 10 deaths out of the 50 widely reported were computed by Daily Trust because only that number had direct relation with the industry.

That same July, a fire at the Linc Oil and Gas Tank Farm in Calabar claimed 10 lives.

2016 recorded several incidents of fatalities, being the year militants staged series of attacks on oil assets.

However, most of the deaths were not included in Daily Trust calculation of industry fatalities as most of the victims were civilians, soldiers or militants other than oil workers, and they died from boat attacks, pipeline blasts or kidnapping.

Although there was the possibility that oil worker(s) might have died from the attacks, there was little evidence to substantiate the suggestion.

Some other incidents occurred that same year but evidence of fatality was also hard to find.

For instance, a rig contracted to drill for Conoil on the Anim Field in the Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL) 290 accidentally fell causing a damage which resulted in both a spill and production curtailment. Fortunately no life was lost.

There are hundreds of oil and gas companies operating in the upstream and downstream sectors but in-house data about occupational injuries or fatalities from their operations are scanty or non-existent, according to Daily Trust findings.

However, local exploration and production giant, Seplat, reported in its 2016 result that its mortality in service was around 63 with workers above 45 accounting for the highest deaths of 26. Those in their 40’s that died in service were 14 and those around 35 were nine. The causes of the mortality were not stated.

Findings show that some industry-related deaths might not have been captured in the DPR 2015 report. For instance, Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria) Limited confirmed that six people were killed in an offshore helicopter accident in the Oworonshoki area of Lagos on August 12, 2015.

The helicopter which was returning from an offshore drilling rig carried 10 passengers and a crew of two. While six peopled survived there were six fatalities, four of them workers in the oil industry.

Royal Dutch Shell, in its 2015 safety performance report, regretted that despite achieving its lowest ever level of injuries that led to time off work, “Sadly, seven people lost their lives while working for Shell in 2015; four of them during one single operational incident.”

“Our Fatal Accident Rate (FAR) – the number of fatalities per 100 million hours worked – increased in 2015 after many years of significant improvement,” the oil giant said.

The company said it recorded four of the seven fatalities during a pipeline repair and a crude oil spill from an onshore well in Nigeria. The Nigerian incidents were two of the six most significant global operational incidents the company recorded.

A July 2017 report published recently by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) shows that the rate of fatal accidents reported by companies increased by 19 per cent in 2016 compared with data for 2015.

However, while the IOGP’s Safety performance indicators 2016 report which covered worldwide oil exploration and production from 43 companies operating in 103 countries showed that the number of deaths decreased from 54 in 2015 to 50 in 2016, the number of fatality in Nigeria’s oil industry rose vastly.

The above fact is supported by the analysis of the DPR report which indicates that the number of fatality in the industry rose by 244 per cent between 2010 and 2015 and the Shell report that four out of the seven deaths it recorded worldwide in 2015 were in Nigeria.

Statistics on the major cause of fatality in the Nigerian industry is also scarce and globally, contentious, but there seems to be agreement that accidents sustained during offshore drilling of oil and gas wells have resulted to the most fatalities.

While some claim that the most common cause is getting a finger or other body parts of the body caught in equipment or being struck by a piece of equipment, others claimed that fatal falls among workers that occurred most often during rigging procedures or when workers removed or inserted a drill pipe into a wellbore, were the major causes of fatalities in the industry.

Is HSE failing?

The rising incidence of fatality in the Nigerian oil and gas industry points to the fact that Health Safety and Environment (HSE) policy may be dwindling.

HSE measures the extent to which a company or an industry conducts activities in a manner that promotes the health and safety of its employees, assets and the public.

Every company claims that safety is a priority. However, findings show that all too often, their approach is reactive; the highest safety priority for them is the current incident. Changes only happen after an incident occurs, and safety culture returns to what it was before the incident.

“If your best-performing staff will put you into HSE problem, fire him because he can kill the company overnight,” Seplat CEO, Austin Avuru, told industry operators at an event in Lagos, pointing out that HSE was one of the six pillars holding any oil company.

Weak enforcement of HSE guidelines by industry regulator, DPR, which is also responsible for formulation of practical HSE policies and guidelines, has been blamed for several incidents of rig fire and other offshore accidents in the upstream segment of the oil and gas industry.


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