Nigeria is one of the globally acclaimed oil producers, priding itself mostly in the Bonny Light brand in the petroleum market governed by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
The country also depends largely and to some extent, over 60 per cent of the revenue sources is from oil. The federal government only recently began to intensify efforts to diversify to a non oil-dependent economy, after being hit with the reality of COVID-19 and a protracted glut in the oil prices.
While these efforts are ongoing, the current oil revenue is being threatened, this time not by the slump in oil prices, as hope is rising with over $60 per barrel, but by crude oil theft.
Nigeria's Niger Delta region is where the bulk of oil is produced and has numerous networks of pipelines ranging from crude oil and condensate to gas.
These infrastructures have continued to face threats of being vandalised and the theft of oil apparently from the pipelines, along with issues of accountability in crude oil production.
According to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in 2019, Nigeria lost about $750 million (about N230 billion) to oil theft. The report of the country's oil company stated that the losses were mostly due to pipeline vandalism.
More so, a committee set up in 2019 to investigate oil theft from pipelines in the region which was chaired by Edo state governor Godwin Obaseki, noted that within six months of that year, about 22.5m barrels of oil was lost from four pipelines. The losses accounted for about six per cent of Nigeria's 2m barrels of daily oil production.
"The governance structure of the pipelines is such today that no one is held accountable, when these losses occur."
It recommended that there should be a legal task force with dedicated courts, prosecution teams and specially trained judges to handle cases of oil pipeline vandalism. The committee also advised the federal government restructure oil pipeline maintenance contract process and the ownership to ensure transparency in the processes.
Another issue is reconciliation of oil production figures between operators and the government. This was re-echoed last week when the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) in a move to stem the negative trend, pushed that Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, would have to refund about 2.1 million barrels of crude oil from the Trans Niger Pipeline (TNP).
The oil industry regulator said it found out that there were faults in the reconciliation process of oil production by the transnational oil company.
According to a court order seen by Daily Trust, a federal high court sitting in Lagos had blocked the company's account in January pending the hearing of the case this month.
The company had been indicted by DPR, for allegedly under declaring 2,081,678 barrels of oil between June 2016 and July 2018 through an unapproved metering system, which it used to misappropriate crude and to short-change local operators.
Shell's spokesman, Bamidele Odugbesan, noted that the company did not under-report crude export from its terminal. However, in a Shell letter referenced DMR/CTO/COA/COM/V.5/045 on January 28, 2021 to DPR, it said it will refund the disputed oil volume.
DPR was contacted on its effort to sanitise the oil industry of the huge menace of unbridled oil theft especially from the 2,616 wells and its adjoining pipelines. The agency said the National Production Monitoring System (NPMS) created in 2016 is a monitoring platform that is helping to resolve the discrepancies.
The industry regulator equally warned that no company will operate if they are not on the NPMS platform, adding that compliance with the submission of the Maximum Efficient Rate (MER) test will be enforced.
Officials of DPR said it is committed to ensuring that Nigeria can account for every molecule of oil sold daily in the international market. This will be done mostly by engaging oil companies on reconciliation processes, it was learnt.
Commenting about misconceptions in oil production, accountability, the Director of DPR, Sarki Auwalu, said the misconception is often referred to as 'technical allowable' which DPR was working to simplify.
Auwalu said oil production is managed through MER which for every well, DPR checks for its efficiency and fix a technical allowable, out of which production quota is given to the operator.
The DPR head noted that there 26 crude oil lifting terminals where five out of the 26 are land terminals and the rest are offshore terminals.
With NPMS, he said: "We give the production volume to be produced, we account for the volume that goes into the terminal, and we allow for every molecule that will leave the terminal. So, to us, we have the right figure."
However, the helmsman said some agencies may dispute that and want to take their accounts from wellheads, which combine crude oil, gas and crude oil. It is this kind of discrepancy that he said is being reconciled with agencies and companies.
"What we account for is the volume that gets into the terminal because that is where the money comes from and the gas is where we now put flare meter, the gas utilised within, the gas we flare and even the water in MPS we know the water we produce," Auwalu clarified.
Commenting further on these issues, Engr. Okon Moses, an oil production expert, said: "Of course, there would be claims and counter claims by operators, but only the DPR can resolve such disputes amicably based on available data for all parties' mutual benefits.
"The DPR past audits (available on its website) on upstream operations will come in handy in terms of crude losses if any," he noted.