Daily Trust (Abuja)

1 December 2012

Nigeria: Niger's 'Oil' of Many Hopes

Minna — Hydrocarbon investigation around the Bida Basin shows availability of crude oil, but whether the commodity is of commercial quantity is something only the impending exploratory tests will unearth.

The mood in Kudu and Murigi communities along the Bida Basin since the committee set up by the state government arrived there sometime in 2010 to carry out hydrocarbon research which will lead to the discovery of crude oil is that of optimism. The hope heightened with the confirmation by the committee of the presence of oil deposits in the areas. What is left to be ascertained soon, according to Lt. General Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi (rtd), the committee chairman, is whether the crude oil is of commercial quantity through exploratory tests at all the locations.

While the state government strategises for the exploratory tests, the host communities could not help but celebrate the confirmation of the legendary rumours of the presence of crude oil in the areas. At the palace of the traditional ruler of Doko, Etsu Dazhi Alhaji Mohammed Dazhi of Doko, the people of the community rolled out their drums in celebration. No one was seemingly left out as the elderly and young unite in the frenzy of the moment. The celebration was said to have lasted long into the morning. That was in almost two months ago.

The enthusiasm which trailed the oil find still lingers till last week, Weekly Trust learnt. The traditional ruler could not hide his joy when questions over the discovery were put to him. "Allah in His infinite mercy has blessed us with abundant riches. We know for long that our land has immense fortune; but what we could not deduce is the magnitude of the blessings," he told Weekly Trust, while some of his subjects present smile and nod in acknowledgement.

According to him, their optimism rose when the government and technical committee visited their place for first time. He then gathered his council and subjects to break the news of the committee's mission to them, while soliciting their cooperation on the matter.

Etsu Dazhi said it is his hope and that of his people that the discovery would a blessing to his community rather than the curse that seemed to be associated with oil, citing the example of Niger Delta which has hitherto became a war zone and the attendant environmental degradation.

He said it was his wish to see gradual transformation of his domain from a village to a modern city, where the oil exploration and exploitation will lead to the springing of industries that would create more opportunities for his people.

The Dazhi of Doko maintained that he was optimistic that the companies and the government that would be at the center stage of the oil exploration would take the natives of the areas where the oil was said to have been found into cognizance in all matters that affect the exploration work.

Also in his view, Idris Abdul from Kudu village said he is not nursing any fear of environmental degradation following the news of oil discovery in his village, adding that instead he is calling on the Niger State government to expedite action with a view of ensuring that the proposed plan did not suffer same fate as others that were prospected and abandoned midway.

He said with the advent of democracy and the experiences of Federal Government and oil companies in Niger Delta, nobody will any longer handle the case of environment with laxity, noting that the oil discovery in his area was a God blessing.

It all started with the inquisitiveness of researchers at the Niger State-owned Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai. They had approached the state government through a proposal sometimes in 2010 for support to carry out hydrocarbon research at the Bida Basin. The state sees the move as an opportunity for it to launch a massive search for crude oil, which the basin has shown some traces in the past. It did not only gives its support but set up a 24-man committee, tagged Gubernatorial Committee on the Development of Bida Basin (GCDBB) on October 15th, 2011 with the mandate to establish facts about the availability or otherwise of oil and gas in Bida basin.

The Committee which is under the chairmanship of General Wushishi was also expected to explore all avenues ranging from preliminary geological and geophysical investigations to drilling of shallow wells that may give information on the oil and gas potentials in the basin. The information is expected to be eventually used for detailed exploration, if findings point to the availability of oil and/or gas in commercial quantity.

The committee was mandated to establish the availability of oil and gas in Bida basin and whether or not the oil is in commercial quantity; it is also to recommend rules and regulations that could mitigate the environmental pollution following the Conduct of Environmental/Social Impact Assessments (EIA/SIA); liaise with the Federal Government and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to ensure adequate preparations for exploration, if oil is available in commercial quantity; source for reputable investors that can invest in the development of the oil and gas and determine activities to be carried out within specific timeline (Action Plan).

According to Governor Babaginda Aliyu, the objective of setting up the committee was to aid government in creating an enabling environment for private sector participation in the development of the potentials of oil and gas in the state economy.

The technical subcommittee was also expected to visit various sites of the projects, corporate stakeholders that include the NNPC, Department of Petroleum Resource (DPR), Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), relevant ministers, audio conferences, exchange of relevant documents, where necessary and constant consultations with the relevant MDAs.

Professor Nuhu Obaje, a Geologist, who is the coordinator of Bida Hydrocarbon and Dean, Faculty of Applied Sciences from IBBUL,

said a source rock or otherwise called the mother source of oil which is usually dark in color had been discovered in Kudu village near Mokwa, adding that the discovery of the rock led to the finding of the areas that he referred as prospective base, where there is the possibility of finding the crude oil deposit.

He said the prospective areas included, Patishabakolo, Gulu, Ewan and Mokwa, and that effort to identify more potential areas is still in progress and that what is remaining again was to find out whether there was what he called 'migration', that is the movement of oil from the source rock to where it could be trapped in a particular spot.

Obaje said when that has been achieved, the finding of volumetric, that is the calculation of the amount of oil deposit available at the basin would be the next step.

He said, if the project plans worked as scheduled, the first well from the basin was expected to be drilled before 2015, noting that there is likelihood for the drilling of the first oil well in the area to come earlier than the earlier proposed time.

According to him, the drilling of the first oil well depends on the financial support the project gets from government and non governmental agencies, adding that the good story about it all was the willingness of the state government to give more support to the project as well as the MOU entered between the state government and the Energy Commission of Nigeria, where the commission planned to invest part of its annual budget in the project.

The coordinator of the Bida Basin Hydrocarbon project said already some companies have indicated interest to take part in the project, adding that the two companies are GEOSAT from Germany and Geospectra from Nigeria.

He further revealed that there is 100 per cent of gas and oil occurrences in the basin and that about 40 per cent success discovery had been achieved, adding that so far chemical analysis indicated that there are more gas than oil in the basin.

Vice Chancellor of IBBUL, Professor Ibrahim Kolo explained that so far the state government has expended 250 million naira on the project, saying despite that support, his institution has sent same proposal to the Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) and TETFund for further financial support.

The committee has floated two companies, Midland Refinery and Petro-chemical Company and Midland Petrogas Resources Limited, to serve as special-purpose vehicles for upstream and downstream activities for the state's oil and gas resources development drive.

While presenting its report to the state governor last month, General Wushishi urged the "Niger State government, through the gubernatorial committee, to take the lead in the formation of Association of Inland Basins Development States, with a view to seeking the buy-in of other states within the basin, to support the ongoing state's drive for search of oil and gas in commercial quantity."

The committee also suggested to the government to carry out a feasibility study for the viability of establishment of a petrochemical and refinery plants at Baro, on the basis proposed by the committee.

Governor Aliyu has transformed the committee to a standing one and directed it to start looking at the possibility of resettling villagers in the affected communities, "so that the state would not witness the type of crises that happened in the Niger Delta."

He said the involvement of the National Energy Commission of Nigeria in the whole exercise has given credence to the exercise, adding that investors should be encouraged to partner with the government in the oil project.

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