Uncertainty Taints Planned Oil Exploration In Chad Basin

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bY FRANCIS OKOYE, Maiduguri and FESTUS OKOROMADU, Abuja

Few days to the deadline set by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to resume oil exploration in Borno state, indications have emerged that the planned exercise may not take place soon.

LEADERSHIP reports that none of the sophisticated equipment for the operation has been moved to the site earmarked for the commencement of the exercise even as there are no activities on ground to indicate that the exercise will begin soon as promised.

It would be recalled that the NNPC has said oil exploration in the Chad basin will commence in July, 2017, as according to it, necessary arrangements were being made for the take-off of the much awaited exercise.

Speaking in May when he visited Borno, the NNPC group managing director, Dr Maikanti Baru, who was represented by the chief operating officer, Gas and Power, Mr Saidu Mohammed, assured the people of Borno that following the emerging peace in the areas, the oil exploration will begin in six weeks’ time.

His words, “The NNPC want to appeal and seek where it can come in and assist, because, the rate of devastation is worrisome.

“We are also in the state to inform you that in the next 6 weeks, we are going to redeploy our team of experts back to Maiduguri to resume oil exploration with better technology in the Lake Chad Basin.

“This is necessary with our renewed efforts in harnessing, oil, gas and Power to increase the economy of the nation, in line with the agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari in job creation and economic diversification,” he added.

However, industry watchers have observed that before exploration activities could start, certain heavy duty equipment which are central to the exercise ought to be made available on ground as part of the preparations.

Findings by LEADERSHIP indicates that none of these heavy duty equipment has arrived the location for the commencement of the planned exploration, few weeks to the July dateline set by the national oil company.

A substantial part of the discovered oil is said to be lying in Kukawa local government council of Borno state where report indicates that security threats are still being experienced and which may jeopardized the planned commencement of the exploration exercise.

Saa’d Usman, an information officer of Kukawa Local government area told our correspondent that the area is not yet safe for the project due to the activities of Boko Haram terrorists in the axis adding that until the Nigerian Military declares the place safe, “nobody can go there now as it is still a no go area”.

But a staff of NNPC in the Maiduguri office who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, disclosed that the Corporation was at the stage of engaging the stakeholders which include the Military, other security operatives, the traditional rulers and the host Communities to know if it is feasible to start operation by this June.

“Our major stakeholders are the security agencies and the military have asked for more time for them to re-assert their men and hardware on ground. They have given us time. We don’t want to disclose the time given to us by the Military for Security reasons.

“Immediately the Military gives us go ahead, we will call for stakeholders engagement meeting which is like project advisory committee meeting where we will decide whether the area is safe for our sophisticated equipment.

Speaking with our correspondent, an expert in oil and gas who insisted that he has had over thirty years in the sector said, “Oil exploration is capital intensive and my simple question has been that with the NNPC account in the red as recent revelations have shown, do they have the financial might?

But the vice chairman of house of representatives committee on downstream, Danlami Muhammad Kurfi, has appealed to the NNPC  to make good its promise of commencing exploration in July noting that delays in kick-starting the exercise was counter-productive.

However, the Corporation’s spokesperson, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu told LEADERSHIP via an SMS, yesterday, that the Corporation is yet to get necessary clearance to go into Borno to start operation.

“We are waiting for the necessary clearance to move in,” he stated in respond to SMS enquiry  sent to him.

Probed further on whom he is expecting clearance from he responded thus, “We made it clear that once we get clearance from security agencies, we shall move in.”

Meanwhile, industry experts have also said the project is more political than economical. Chief Martins Onovo, a petroleum engineer wonders why the nation at a time of recession should channel the lean resources at its disposal to the exploration in the Chad Basin.

On his part, the President of Nigerian Association of Petroleum Engineers, Saka Matemilola in a telephone chat with LEADERSHIP, yesterday, said there is nothing wrong with government taking the lead on the exploration project.

He noted that from the political perspective, a successful actualization of the venture will help reduce the tension in the country as every region will be confidence that it has crude oil.

Siting the example of how Lagos state became an oil producing state, Engr. Bola Olajide, Lagos based geologist told Leadership on phone that the government should have encouraged a private sector operator to pursue the exploration initiative.

According to him, the Lagos experience became possible only because a private sector company, Yinka Folawiyo Petroleum and other companies were engaged in the exploration in the Dahomey Basin made it happened.