For four decades, many Nigerians have been waiting for the news given the determination, energy and expense put into the search. The exciting news finally came on Friday, October 11, 2019 that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has struck hydrocarbon deposits in the Kolmani River 11 Well on the Upper Benue Trough, Gongola Basin. In a statement, Mr. Samson Makoji, the Acting Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs division of the corporation said that the discoverywill “attract foreign investment, generate employment and increase government revenue”. Makoji further explained that one of the rigs was drilled to a total depth of 13,701 feet, which led to the discovery of oil and gas in several levels. One of the reservoirs, he said, “started flowing at to the well head at 21:20 hours in which the gas compo- nent was flared to prevent air charge around the rig”.
With a proven crude oil reserves of 36,972 million barrels, 5,675 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves and daily production capacity of 2.53 million barrels per day, Nigeria has never hidden her desire to increase the nation’s reserve base. In fact, President Muhammad Buhari restated this position February 3, 2019 when he flagged off in Bauchi the current exploration effort that has now resulted into a sweet find.
“A key execution priority of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) is ensuring national energy sufficiency and this cannot be achieved through hydrocarbon resources from the conventional basins alone. Therefore, exploration in our frontier basins is a national imperative and a core policy thrust that must be sustained”, the president said at the event.
The nation’s hydrocarbon basins are Niger Delta, Chad, Anambra, Gongola(Benue Trough), Benin, Sokoto and Bida. Over the years, the country had concentrated in the Ni- ger Delta basins for her oil exploration while leaving the other basins largely untapped.
Even though that experts have advised the news be taken with cautious optimism until the volume of the find is determined but it is gratifying enough to note there is oil in the Upper Benue Trough given the efforts put in the search. It is also hoped that the discovery would balance resource locations in the country and help to douse agitations in the Niger Delta.
NNPC’s focus should now shift to Anam- bra basin which already has witnessed oil and gas discoveries but requires the same level of investment and energy. The first serious search for oil in Anambra basinstarted in 2004 when Orient Petroleum Resources Plc was granted oil prospecting license (OPLs 915 and 916) and authority to construct a private petroleum refinery. In spite of the daunting challenges, which include the vicious politics of ownership between Anambra, Kogi and Enugu States, finance and choking economic environment, the company has managed to trudge on.
It has executed extensive 3D seismic data acquisition covering 640sq. kilometers in both OPLs 915 and 916 oil blocks, known to contain at least five hydrocarbon bearing fields. It is currently drilling two new wells (ANAR-4 and ANAR-5) in OPL 915 and has increased its production from 3,000 to 10,000 barrels. According to Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), a state can only join the league of oil producing states when its production company produces at 120,000 barrels and graduates from from oil prospect- ing (OPL) to oil mining lease (OML).
The prospects of Anambra State attain- ing this status was enhanced recently when Sterling Exploration and Energy Production Company Limited (SEEPCo), operator of OML 143, started an exploratory drilling activities in OgwuIkpele in Ogbaru local gov- ernment area. Part of OML 143 oil block lies in OgwuIkpele and the rest in Rivers State. On November 27, 2018, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) revalidated the drilling permit granted to SEEPCo to “drill Enyie-2 as first appraisal well in OML 143”.
The company was making progress and had reached a critical stage until May 8, 2019 when Hon. ChukwumaOnyema who was then representing Ogbaru Federal Constituency at the 8th House of Representatives, raised an alarm that an illegal oil exploration was going on in his constituency.
Through a motion, Onyema urged his colleagues to pass a resolution ordering a halt to the activities of Sterling Oil insisting that the “oil exploration by the company was illegal and was at variance with extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. The House listened to him and consequently passed a resolution to stop the drilling activities in OgwuIkpele and mandated its committees on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) and Environment to visit the community and report back in three weeks. Unfortunately, the tenure of the 8th National Assembly ended on June 9, 2019. Apparently acting on the resolution of the House, officials of Anambra State on June 18, 2019 stopped Sterling’s operations. Hon. Onyema may have led the House to act ignorantly. First, the drilling was not illegal as Sterling Oil is a registered operator with Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and has a valid operating mining lease (OML) from DPR.
The misunderstanding was quickly resolved through the intervention of Governor Willie Obiano and SEEPco has since resumed full operations. Anambra State has been working assiduously to attract the needed investment that will increase the volume of exploration at OPLs 915 and 916. Some of the concrete actions taken by the state include the construction of AguleriOtu road leading to the wells and engagement with the National Boundary Commission for an amicable settlement of the dispute with Kogi and Enugu States. With the expected shift of NNPC’s gaze to frontier basins, it is most likely that the economic status of the state is set for a drastic change.
Onyima, a former Commissioner for Infor- mation, Culture and Tourism in Anambra State, writes from Umuoji