Deaths ensue from ongoing oil theft, law enforcers suspected
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The unbridled cases of oil thievery in Indonesia reached a boiling point on Wednesday as an explosion occurred near an oil pipeline in Bayung Lencir district, South Sumatra, killing five civilians while leaving 18 others injured.
Pertamina EP, the owner of the Tempino-Plaju oil pipeline that stretches 270 kilometers from Jambi to South Sumatra, immediately terminated oil distribution through the pipeline as a result of the incident, expecting at least Rp 9.9 billion (US$1.03 million) in losses a day.
“The ensuing fire was extinguished by 11:50 a.m. Those wounded, some of whom suffered serious burns, were quickly rushed to nearby hospitals,” said Pertamina EP spokesman Agus Amperianto.
A statement issued by the company revealed that the pipeline installation, which delivers 11,000 barrels of oil per day to the Pelaju Refinery Complex in Palembang, was well accustomed to oil thievery.
In the first nine months of this year, the company recorded 373 oil theft cases in the Bayung Lencir district alone. The figure is a twofold increase from 158 cases reported throughout last year.
Pertamina EP says it has suffered at least Rp 200 billion in losses since 2009 when a theft monitoring system was first introduced.
In July, a fact-finding mission assigned by the company’s parent company, state-owned oil and gas producer PT Pertamina, concluded that the oil thieves siphoned off the oil by drilling holes in the pipeline. Such activity has also attracted local citizens to collect the stolen oil from the compromised pipeline.
While the main cause of Wednesday’s explosion is still under investigation, Pertamina EP “strongly suspect” oil theft was behind it, saying that the explosion was caused by local people trying to tap out oil from the pipe they dug under ground.
“Based on the information we’ve collected thus far from the local authority, there is strong evidence that the explosion was caused by oil thievery practices,” Agus said, adding that “two-inch pipes allegedly used for oil thievery were found planted in the ground at the explosion site.”
Gde Pradnyana, operations deputy at upstream oil and gas regulator BPMigas, said bold action should be taken to curb what he considered organized crime. He strongly believed that law enforcement and military officers were involved.
“It seems that a number of errant officers have been involved and thus makes the thievery cases more rampant,” he said.
Pradnyana said Pertamina was well aware of the situation and had sought help from high-ranking law enforcement officers.
“However, their efforts were unsuccessful despite their report having reached the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister,” said Pradnyana.
In a hearing session with lawmakers on Monday, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto acknowledged the alleged involvement of law enforcement officers in oil thefts. He said a team had been dispatched to investigate the matter.
Separately on Wednesday, Deputy Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Rudi Rubiandini told The Jakarta Post in a text message that the government was still waiting for the official results of the investigation before it would decide its next steps.
“The ministry’s oil and gas directorate will send a special team to investigate oil-and-gas-related mishaps and, hopefully, we’ll come to a conclusion very soon,” he said.