18 February 2013

Liberia: 'Stay Order' On Liberian Oil

The Senate Special Committee on Petroleum Transformation Agenda has placed a stay order on all future negotiations and bidding rounds for oil blocks in Liberia.

The committee chaired by Senator Cletus Wotorson of Grand Kru County reached the decision on Friday at the Capitol during hearing with senior executives of the National Oil Company of Liberia, (NOCAL).

It declared that all previously unsolved business should be entirely cleared out before proceeding with reform of oil block 13 and future engagements.

Last August, the Liberian Legislature revealed a US$45 million revenue projection for the controversial offshore oil Block 13 under a new arrangement with the Canadian Overseas Petroleum (COPL) and the American oil giant Exxon-Mobil.

Block 13 was previously awarded to Peppercoast, an oil and gas company. But both the Legislature and NOCAL discovered that the company was financially and technically incapable to take full ownership of the oil well.

According to report submitted by the Special Committee to plenary, NOCAL and the Legislature agreed to seek new clients with the assistance of Peppercoast, who initially negotiated the contract.

Peppercoast proposed an alternative transaction with Exxon-Mobil, acquiring 70 percent, while 30 percent was apportioned to the Canadian Overseas Petroleum for said Block 13.

Under the arrangement, Exxon-Mobil has the primary operational and financial responsibility for the entire contract, and already, Liberian officials have expressed optimism that Exxon-Mobil has the financial and technical capacity required to operate the block.

Peppercoast acquired the contract in 2005, which was amended in 2007 and ratified by the Legislature in 2007. It is not clear how the stay order will affect the Exxon deal.

Last Friday, the Senate insisted that all previously unresolved business must be entirely cleared before proceeding to reform. Furthermore, no future bid round for future oil blocks will be discussed, pending the completion of the reform process.

Senator Wotorson, also a former President Pro-tempore said the Special Committee is aware of how petroleum impacts the lives of all Liberians through the use of thousands of products, including gasoline, diesel jet fuel, non-fuel asphalt and lubricants, amongst others, and will in collaboration with NOCAL do everything necessary to sustain that fact.

The aging Senator also said he was cognizant of the special role oil has to play in the promotion of attaining maximum strategic linkages between the petroleum sector and the rest of the Liberian economy in reaching Vision 2030, otherwise called the Agenda for Transformation.

Members of the committee include heads of several committees including the Co-chair of the Standing Committee on Land, Mines, Energy and Environment; the Committee on Judiciary; the Chair of the Committee on Ways, Means and Finance and the Committee on Forestry, respectively, among others.

The Board Chair of the National Oil Company of Liberia, Mr. Robert Sirleaf, promised to ensure transparency in the oil sector in such a way that it will benefit all Liberians.

"I want to say thanks to you for inviting me and my colleagues to appear. We at NOCAL have full intent to be hundred percent transparent. We began this process in 2012 and it is not going to change. Whatever information you request from the institution will be given to you," pledged Mr. Sirleaf.

He reminded that it is also critical and important to know that the decisions Liberians will make in 2013, 2014 and 2015 are very critical because they will transform the lives of generations unborn.

He said the current management team at NOCAL has established four key principles as guiding tools, including transparency, inclusiveness, sustainability, safety, health and environment. Mr. Sirleaf disclosed that Liberia has a geography challenge in water depth of 1500 to 3000, and that only six companies in can drill at those depths.

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