Opinion: Exploring oil in the North: Fabulous or fabulist?


Drilling for oil in the North-East has cost Nigeria a fortune. From the day that the seemingly endless exercise began, a whopping sum of $340m and another N27bn have been sunk into the dream that may be turning into a financial nightmare for a country that is now broke and bust.

Now, many curious Nigerian minds are asking the following questions: Is there a drop of oil in the North? Is Nigeria just recklessly hauling money into the gutters and funding a curse, not a just cause? Is it a good and fabulous idea to turn a barren north-eastern region to a fruitful territory overnight or is it plain foolish and fabulist?

There is no nation that will ever turn down an extra and free barrel of oil dumped down on its soil from heaven. There is no nation that will not desire more in resources to shore up its income base. The delectability of the idea probably compelled President Muhammadu Buhari to declare in 2015 that the search for oil in the North should be taken seriously. The Buhari administration targets the goal of increasing Nigeria’s export potentials and also to balance cross regional perceptions and manage agitations so as to enhance the stability of the country. Drilling for oil sounds like a lofty goal for a country that is struggling to walk again after it was besieged and rattled by profligacy and corruption for many years.

Oil exploration in the Lake Chad Basin predates the present Buhari administration. The sum of $240m was reportedly provided by the Federal Government to ease oil and gas exploration activities in the area between 2011 and 2013. Targeted locations include the Lake Chad Basin and other northern hydrocarbon basins, including the Benue Trough, Bida Basin and the Sokoto-Rima Basin.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was big on pursuing oil in that part of the country. Its many efforts were, however, upturned by the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents in the region. Jonathan’s oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, had once said that there was a possibility that Nigeria might find oil in commercial quantities in the Lake Chad Basin because of the discoveries of commercial hydrocarbon deposits in nearby Chad, Niger and Sudan, which have structural settings that are similar to the Chad Basin. Many Nigerians agreed with her. Afterward, oil was reportedly discovered in the Lake Chad basin in 2012. Last year in Abuja, Mrs. Jamila Shua’ra, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, again celebrated the supposed find. But, up till now, Nigerians are not certain if what was discovered was in enough quantity for commercial purposes.

Oil experts, professionals and stakeholders in the oil and gas business are not ready to roll out the drums to celebrate oil drilling in the North. They continue to express doubts that whatever is found may not guarantee a commercially viable quantity. They wonder why Nigeria must commit to such a capital-intensive venture that may not yield expected bountiful results.

In the South-South, there are 37 billion barrels of proven oil reserve and about 187 trillion standard cubic feet of gas. Also, in the North-East there is an unproven oil reserve of about 2.3 billion barrels and about 14.65 trillion standard cubic feet of natural gas. This discovery irks many people, who wonder why such a huge amount of money is piped into a cause that has neither value nor weight. Haters of exploration in the North also opine that in the Lake Chad basin, oil has been found where the water is deeper. The Nigerian region only has shallow waters.

Those who stand with the government in its exploration odyssey say that, in the process of exploring for the black gold in the Chad basin, Nigeria may stumble on gas that may be used for other purposes, including the generation of about 100 megawatts of electricity for the region. Proponents of the exploration process also claim that Shell Oil has made some indicative discovery of hydrocarbons on the frontier basin in the Chad and some areas close to the Kolmani River and as such, exploration must continue.

It will be a tough decision to halt the on-going oil exploration in the North-East. Those who pitch their tents on the side of drilling for oil will remind us that in Nigeria, oil was discovered first in Ataka in non-commercial quantities in 1953 before it was found in great commercial quantities in Oloibiri in 1956 after many years of exploration. If it was done in the South, why can’t it be done in the North?

They will also remind us that Ghana drilled for 5 0 years after Independence in 1957 before oil was discovered. It now pumps out 120,000 barrels per day. They will also refer us to the period in Saudi Arabian history when the British abandoned oil prospecting in that country, saying it was only good for rearing camels. Saudi Arabi is the world’s leading oil producer today pumping out over 10 million barrels of oil per day. Some top officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation are very hopeful that oil in commercial quantities will one day be found in the Lake Chad Basin.

Although seismic movements around the earth in the north-eastern region and the verification of some hydrocarbons by scientists are obvious signs that oil may be present in that territory, I am also convinced that continued exploration has some shady colourations that are both ethnic and self-serving. Only God knows how much money has truly gone into sincere drilling exercises and how many people have fed fat and continue to benefit illegally from these. But, I will not ask for a total halt; I will suggest a moratorium on exploration until Nigeria gets her acts together. Existing refineries are in a coma; it is only wise to strengthen existing infrastructure around the oil and gas business in Nigeria, instead of pumping so much money into draining drills for oil. Prioritisation is a preceding process for progress. Nigeria must do the needful first.Punch

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