Nigeria wants to use drones to help save billions of dollars from oil theft

“Catch them!”
“Catch them!”
Image: AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, has a checkered history with its most valuable resource.

From devastating environmental pollution to industrial scale corruption, Nigeria’s oil sector is a rich, but wasteful business which is beset with many recurring challenges. To combat oil theft, one of its many problems, the country is set to implement drone technology.

According to Nigeria’s state-run oil company, NNPC, drones will be deployed in the fight against oil theft by monitoring the movement of ships in key coastal areas. In the recent past government and industry insiders have been reported to use their own vessels to move oil with no revenue going to the government.

The news was confirmed by the new boss at NNPC, Ibe Kachikwu, while speaking at a special conference on security in the Gulf of Guinea.

“We are launching an armada of approaches which will include incorporation of drones to check movements of vessels within our territorial waters,” said Kachikwu in a statement. “We are looking at the current logistical nightmares of changing staffing at the loading bay of crude oil export terminals virtually every 90 days.”

In June, senior staff in Nigeria’s oil industry estimated that country loses up to $15 million  to $25 million daily to oil theft (using an estimate of $60 for a barrel of oil).

Nigeria’s President Buhari has promised stricter monitoring and protection of Nigeria’s key oil installations across the country.   Nigeria began test run operations of drones in June and is now set for  full-scale deployment. Buhari’s government is also undergoing a full-scale overhaul of the oil industry as part of a wider push to curb corruption and recover funds believed to have been stolen by individuals in previous administrations. A PricewaterhouseCoopers audit of the national oil company said it should refund up to $4.3 billion to the government.

While the idea of embracing drone technology is novel, it could be met with cynicism in a country where there is an underwhelming culture of maintenance. In the past, the Nigerian military has employed drones for surveillance and intelligence gathering in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency; in the bid to rescue the 200 kidnapped  Chibok girls.