40 crude oil wells have been discovered by the Nigerian Army 6 Division, Port Harcourt, in Rumuekpe community, Emohua local government area of Rivers state.

The uncovered wells which are about 40 feet deep were discovered on Wednesday, February 28, during a sweep-and-clear operation on the Trans Niger Delta Pipeline, led by the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6 Division, Maj.-Gen. Jamal Abdussalam.

Abdussalam who described the discovery as an eye-opener for the army in the war against oil theft and illegal oil bunkering in the Niger Delta region, said oil thieves in the area invented a technique of digging deep into the ground to reach the crude oil deposits.

He said; “We have been conducting in the past two days and the aim of the operation was to clear the trans-Niger Delta pipeline because we have been receiving complaints from SPDC of breaches on the TNP (Trans Niger Delta Pipeline) and based on that we decided to conduct operation to sweep and clear the pipeline, it was on the cause of that operation, we came to this particular location and you journalists have seen what we have seen.

“If you are not here, you may not believe what we are seeing. In this area, our troops have discovered more than 40 dugouts, and these dugouts are not meant to access pipelines, they are dug out directly into the ground like well and surprisingly have access to crude oil. This is the first time I’ve seen this type of thing.

“You can see all around us are pits and very deep, you will need ladders to have access into it, and at the bottom is crude oil, so they are just fetching crude just like water from a well.

“This is very sad and with this, we have discovered a new dimension to oil theft, it is entirely a new dimension. This is not an issue of pipeline vandalism, this one is digging directly into the ground and having access to these resources.”

The army GOC also said that he would alert the authorities to the development, adding that the troops would be permanently stationed at the site to prevent continued operation by the criminals.

Abdussalam added; “I will bring the attention of the relevant authorities to this site so that they can come and see what can be done, but in the meantime, our men would be deployed so that we can stop people from accessing the area because it is even dangerous to the people involved in this because a little fire will kill everyone conducting this dastardly act.

“It is also not good for the system, see how the whole place has been dug out. It is also very dangerous for people who are not even aware of this because they can come blindly at night and fall inside this pit and that is the end. We would do the needful, we would not get tired until we rid this area of these criminals.

“Few people have been arrested, they are in our custody, we hope they will give us useful information that would lead to the arrest of others that are involved in this act.”

One of the suspects who was arrested confessed that the wells belonged to different families in the community. He further revealed that they are usually paid about N40,000 to excavate a well of about 15 feet.

He said; “It is owned by the community and not by one person. Some kindred and not all of them. To get oil, sometimes if the place is like here, we dig like 10 to 15 feet. When we dig it and notice that the gas is rising, if you do not run out on time people might suffocate and we bring them out half dead, but the unlucky ones die.

“When we bring them out and pour them water and give them coke. So after the gas, the oil will come out. And another set will come to fetch it after we have finished digging it. It is not only me, sometimes we could be about three to four and we are being paid N40,000 for one well.”