Nigeria: Mixed Feelings Over Oil Discovery in the North

Oil field
19 October 2019

Barambu and neighbouring communities in Alkaleri Local Government Area of Bauchi State, near the border with Gombe State, came into limelight again last week following the announcement by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of the discovery of hydrocarbon (oil and gas) deposits in the Kolmani River II Well on the Upper Benue Trough, Gongola Basin.

On February 2, 2019, the same site caught the attention of the world when President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned drilling for oil and gas at the Kolmani River II Well. The activity eventually yielded fruit on October 10. At about 18:02hours, one of the reservoirs of the well was perforated and hydrocarbon started flowing to its head at 21:20hours. The gas component was then flared to prevent air charge around the rig.

The well was drilled with "Ikenga Rig 101" to a depth of 13,701 feet, encountering oil and gas in several levels.

The next step which is the Drill Stem Test (DST) is currently on-going. This will confirm the commercial viability and flow of the reservoir.

However, preliminary reports indicate that the discovery consists of gas, condensate and light sweet oil of the American Petroleum Institute (API) gravity ranging from 38 to 41.

Computation of hydrocarbon volume is on-going and the NNPC has said information about the volume would be announced in due course.

The NNPC said it had acquired additional 1183km2 of 3D seismic data over highly prospective areas of the Gongola Basin intending to evaluate the full hydrocarbon potential of the basin.

The corporation also said it had deployed world-class cutting-edge technologies and would drill additional wells for a full evaluation of the hydrocarbon volume in the Gongola Basin.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The renewed search for commercial quantity hydrocarbon in the inland basins of northern Nigeria received a boost in 2016 following President Muhammadu Buhari's directive to the NNPC to resume exploration activities, especially at the Chad Basin and the Kolmani River in the Benue Trough.

The subsequent commencement of drilling of the Kolmani River II well by the NNPC in February was the second attempt at actual oil drilling in the basin after earlier undertakings by some international oil companies were abandoned midway.

In 1993, the federal government awarded blocks in the Gongola Basin to three international oil companies - Shell, Chevron and Total.

The companies acquired data and drilled one well each. One of the wells was the Kolmani River I which recorded about three billion standard cubic feet ( scf ) of gas but was termed non-commercial. The oil giants, therefore, suspended operations and relinquished the blocks in 2000.

Following the president's directive, the NNPC acquired advanced data and technology to drill deeper for more discoveries. It acquired 3D seismic data over the Kolmani River area, leading to the identification of six prospects including the Kolmani River II well.

The immediate past GMD of the NNPC had indicated that while the international oil companies, which previously explored the basin through Kolmani River 1 well drilled down to less than 9,000 feet, the corporation would go as deep as 14,500 feet in the Kolmani River II well.

"When we read the data, we observed that Shell did not go deep enough. So we have come here based on the 3-dimensional seismic and other subsurface reviews and studies we have done. At the moment, we are looking deep down, we are looking at kilometres below the ground, and nobody has gone there. It is only drilling that would confirm whether there is any resource there, as well as confirm the professional judgement we have. So, in terms of volumes, types and all that, let us wait.

"We have six prospects identified in the Kolmani River Basin. If this is successful, we are going to the next location, which would be the Kolmani River III, just 1.7 to 2.0 kilometres from here," Baru added.

While assuring that the NNPC would leave no stone unturned in sustaining the intensity of the ongoing oil and gas exploration in the inland basins, Baru called for patience.

"It usually takes time for the oil to be discovered. In the Niger Delta Basin, it took over 50 years for explorations to discover crude oil. The Niger Republic drilled over 600 wells and over many years before they discovered crude oil. Therefore, patience is of the essence here," he said.

Stop exploration if discovery is not commercial-Experts

Mixed reactions have trailed the discovery, as energy experts and environmental analysts in separate interviews said it would be against national interest if the NNPC continues the exploration if what was discovered is non-commercial.

Outcome Lead, Industry Restructuring, Nigeria Natural Resource Charter (NNRC), Mr. Michael Faniran, said the discovery is good for the country but there were some concerns.

"Mixed feelings because currently, we don't have all the information, whether it is in commercial quantity or not. If it is in commercial quantity then it is good, that means all the money that the country has sunk into that place makes sense otherwise it would have been wasted if it is not in commercial quantity.

"We just ask for sincerity from the NNPC, if what they have seen there is not in commercial quantity they should stop that exploration and stop wasting public resources on exploration activities," he said.

Faniran said: "I believe there is a threshold for us to know what is commercial or not because at the time you are going to know what you will spend bringing out the quantity that you have, if it doesn't tally with how much you are going to get then it is not in commercial quantity. "

The National Coordinator, National Coalition on Gas flaring and oil spills in the Niger Delta, Rev. Father Edward Obi, said, "Exploration for oil and gas in the northern part of Nigeria has been going on for many years and budget after budget, allocations were made for that exploration to continue. It is cheering news, at least, other parts of Nigeria will begin to experience what we from the Niger Delta have been experiencing and I expect that it will be a valid contribution to our national profile and to fund the budget to some extent.

"However, let us be careful not to operate dual standards. Standards that are applied anywhere must also be applied everywhere and I am a strong advocate of local content."

Father Obi advised that the people in areas where the resources have been discovered must be brought along the value chain of the exploration and exploitation of the resources because it is supposed to impact on them.

"Our advocacy in the Niger Delta and the contentions that have been there over the years is just because the exploitation of the resources tends to by-pass the people and there is no visible impact in terms of real difference in the lives of the people and that is what is wrong about the whole situation," he added.

Also speaking, the Deputy Director, Programmes of the New Nigeria Foundation, Olaide Adesanya, said with the recent discovery, it is no longer going to be a Niger Delta issue but also in the North.

"But the question is, we have found oil in the North so what next? Is it just to find oil? What is the quantity of oil found, is it something in commercial quantity? Then you now ask, what are we as a nation going to put in place so that we don't have issues that we have in the Niger Delta because anywhere you have a natural resource, some things happen.

"We have gone through the trauma of having crude in the Niger Delta. What are we going to do differently so that the story of the North in the next 10 years does not become the story of the Niger Delta?"


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