An explosion at an illegal oil refining depot in Nigeria’s Rivers state killed over 100 people overnight, a local government official and the NGO Youths and Environmental Advocacy Center (YEAC) said on Saturday.
“The fire outbreak occurred at an illegal bunkering site and it affected over 100 people who were burnt beyond recognition,” the state commissioner for petroleum resources, Goodluck Opiah, said.
The immediate cause of the explosion and the extent of the deaths, injuries and damage are being investigated, said Declan Emelumba, Imo State Commissioner for Information.
“A lot of people died. The people who died are all illegal operators,” said Michael Abattam, spokesman of the Imo State Police Command.
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The Imo state government is also looking for the owner of the refinery where the explosion occurred and have declared him a wanted individual, an official said.
Illegal refineries are common in Nigeria where shady business operators often avoid regulations and taxes by setting up refineries in remote areas, out of sight of authorities.
The practice is so widespread that is it affecting Nigeria’s crude oil production, in the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
It has also led to many fatal accidents and has polluted a region already blighted by oil spills in farmland, creeks and lagoons.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil but it has very few refineries and as a result most gasoline and other fuels are imported.