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Field Report #159 - Crude Fire Ravages Ubeji
Thursday, 05 July 2007


  • Storage Tank collapses in Warri refinery, spewing its contents into Ubeji creeks
  • Fire outbreak damages fragile ecosystems, livelihoods
  • Refinery officials had enough time to prevent the outbreak of the fire



Ubeji is a quiet community located in the Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State, Nigeria. The community, among several others play host to the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company (WRPC), a subsidiary of the Government owned Oil company, The Nigerian National Petroleum Company, NNPC.

For over 25 years, since the construction and operation of the refinery, the community has had to live with the pollution of their creeks and waterways by the activities of WRPC. It is a known fact that periodically, the WRPC dispenses sludge, waste water and other pollutants into the creeks surrounding Ubeji. Past efforts by the community leaders to seek compensation for the destruction of their livelihoods, which is mainly fishing, had proved abortive.

The Incident
According to Hon Griftson T. Omatsuli, the Chairman of the Ubeji Pollution Committee (UPC), there was a heavy downpour which occurred in the community on the late evening of Sunday, the 2nd of July. On the morning of the following day, residents on the community began to smell the pungent odour of crude oil or associated products, something they had become used to. The only difference this day was that the smell was more intense that usual.

This prompted youths in the community to move to the creeks to investigate the smell. Their discovery was that the entire creek, serving several communities, was covered in what they referred to as crude condensate. Such was the smell was that they could hardly breathe normally.

The ERA monitors who visited the community gathered that the youths immediately decided to alert the officials of the WRPC of their findings. All they got was the reply that some officials would come to see the problem. Unknown to the youths at the time, the WRPC officials were busy trying to contain the source of the problem; one of the storage tanks, specifically tank 61, had collapsed the previous night, spewing its contents into the drainage system of the complex and straight into the creeks, setting the stage for potential disaster.

However, at about 3.45 pm, there was a sudden outbreak of fire in the creeks which quickly spread all over consummating most of the vegetation in its path. It took fire fighters reportedly from several organisations about 3 hours to put out the inferno. But then the damage had already been done. Charred canoes and vessels could still be seen when the monitors visited. The smell emanating from the crude still floating in the creeks was still strong.

According to Hon Griftson, "This disaster was waiting to happen since all our efforts to get the WRPC to find solutions to the continued dispersal of pollutants into the area have hitherto proved abortive."  What has caused so much pain in the community was also aggravated by the poor response the WRPC officials displayed in the handling of the problem, Griftson further complained.

He further said that the officials of the WRPC called the community leaders for a meeting on Wednesday, 4th July apparently to discuss ways to handle the impact of the incident on the community. They are yet to have any results from the outcome of the meeting. 


  • Immediate and thorough clean up of the creeks and surrounding areas.
  • The NNPC should embark on a comprehensive safety audit of all their equipment and installations and replace faulty and weak structures to forestall future occurrences.
  • Adequate compensation and relief be made to the affected communities, particularly Ubeji.


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