Unilag Housing Centre


A general overview of pipeline explosion; Issues and way forward

A general overview of pipeline explosion; Issues and way forward  


Oluwakayode Ashamu

Phd Candidate in Urban Planning and Member of Pro-poor

Development cluster



The life cycle of oil and gas operations and activities is associated with risk. A major aspect of it is the transportation of petroleum products, either by rail, road or pipes with negative consequences to the environment, loss of life and livelihood. Distribution of petroleum products through pipeline has been much preferred to road and rail transportation because of relative safety, speed, efficiency and cost effectiveness. This has led to the rapid expansion and growth of pipeline networks in Nigeria which are designed to haulage either mixed or monotype fluids from one part of the country to another with a legal right established to lay pipelines through a mechanism to help in managing interference, called the Right of Way (ROW) of a distance of 50m from other land uses and 12m into the ground.. These products include petrol, dual purpose kerosene, aviation kerosene for local consumption in Nigeria and for export to other countries within West African Sub- Region.

Pipelines, Transportation and Accidents

Generally, pipeline transport risk has been associated to probability of leakage or bursting and related magnitude. Pipelines explosions are recurring danger in Nigeria especially in Lagos, and this is giving an increase to loss of lives and properties.

A total of 34 pipeline explosions have occurred across the country from 1998 to 2012 with 9 cases in Lagos alone and since then, there have been at least 3 cases of pipeline explosion before the recent incidence in Abule-Ado on the 15th of March 22, 2020 which claimed the lives of 23 people, displacing 500 people and leaving more than 50 buildings damaged.

Matters Arising 

Analysis of some of the pipeline explosion shows that the incidences are direct results of:

Lack of proper incident reporting: 

Lack of proper information about incidents is one major issue in the Nigerian Petroleum industry as incidence that happen are often deliberate to withheld, which makes it difficult to analyze and understand the root cause of the respective incidence. While some alter data that relates with incidence, some under-report just to avoid legal risk, compensation, and avoid environmental clean-up. This is one of the dysfunctional safety cultures in the industry.

Lack of Comprehensive Pipeline integrity management system:

This comprises of unsafe operations, improper inspection, preventive and predicative maintenance of pipeline during operations in order to detect pipeline leaks, possible hazards and also determine locations where a failure would have high consequence especially where there is an encroachment on the buffer zone of right of way. Some pipelines are not properly laid down below the surface (as the required is 12m below the surface of the earth) and can easily be exposed to impact. Others are laid above ground surface, while most are subject to deterioration due to aging, aggressive environmental factors, inadequate design and improper protection and maintenance.

Inadequate Identification of Hazards and Risk Assessment

Often, oil company tend not to carry out nor report frequent and proper hazard identification on their pipelines systems irrespective of whether these hazards are man-made or not while managing such risk using appropriate technologies. The US counterpart of Steiner in 2010 maintained that Nigerian oil companies need more hazards analysis and risk assessment as most part of Nigeria are tagged High Consequence Areas for Oil spills (this include populated areas, drinking water area, productive ecosystem, residential area, e.t.c).

Non- compliance with legislations and international standards 

The lack of compliance with international guidelines is a major factor in the poor safety performance of the oil industry such as American Petroleum Institute Standards (API) standard for pipeline integrity, leaks and all petroleum production and transportation in order to prevent oil spills and ensure ‘good field practice’.

Lack of enforcement and monitoring system

Ineffective enforcement and monitoring system is tantamount to not having a legal framework. Effective monitoring and enforcement by regulator is very crucial to the efficacy of any regulatory system. This is facilitated by robust laws that are comprehensive and consistent with a range of sanctions to help compel compliance and maintain effective enforcement.

Improper Incident investigation

Pipeline incidences have always been with different unreliable facts. This shows lack of proper incidents investigation as the causes of pipeline incidents in Nigeria tend to be assumed for vandalism thus, absolving them from responsibilities and liabilities for the said incidence. Tracking, investigating and reporting shows process safety incidents as well as the trend of incident and incident investigation data to identify recurring incidents. Thus, the information is used to develop effective recommendations to address the underlying system- related causes of incidents and avert future occurrences.

Outdated Operating Practices

Most pipelines in Nigeria lack modern equipment which makes it difficult to effectively detect leaks that may have been caused by rupture or vandalism in a timely manner. The standard pipeline operating procedures and practices is supposed to include alarm management, Leak Detection System (LDS), and Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition (SCADA), which help to detect leaks and vandalized pipeline.

Inadequate Environmental and Social Management System 

Explosions of pipeline are often as a result of leaks which are not detected on time and due to poor Environmental and Social Management System. A comprehensive one articulates response plans clearly and on time by clearly outlining the procedures to follow.

Others include:

  • Lack of Leadership commitment
  • Lack of proper management of third party interference
  • Poverty and lack of education people and encroachment into right of way
  • Inadequate stakeholder management system
  • Corruption and the blame game
  • Lack/ inadequate data of past incident to help avert future occurrence

Recommendation and Conclusion

The business landscape is rapidly changing from business as usual which was profit oriented, to the triple bottom line which entails economic viability, social responsibility and consciousness of the environment. Thus, oil companies need to embrace this new paradigm shift of integrating sustainability into their business decision making process which would help re-develop their business model. In turn, this would help in complying with regulations/ standards (which requires hazard analysis and risk assessment especially for Areas susceptible to damage for third parties), greening of supply-chain that has often been a big threat to both lives and properties and allow for business transparency and adequate reporting.

Oluwakayode Ashamu is a PhD Researcher in Urban planning and a member of the Pro-poor development research cluster

Email address: kay.ashamu@gmail.com

Phone no: 08082873129


The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development University of Lagos, Nigeria.