Push for First Oil: Experts Urge FG to Provide Bailout Funds for Marginal Oil Field Awardees

•Say cost of bidding, signature bonus too expensive, erode commerciality of assets 

Peter Uzoho

As the 2020 marginal oil field awardees currently struggle to raise fund to commence the development of their respective assets and eventually hit first oil production, some industry experts have advised the federal government to consider providing intervention funds for cash-strapped companies.

The experts said the excessive cost of participation during the marginal field bid round and the expensive signature bonus they were asked to pay have eroded the commerciality of the assets, making it difficult for them to raise fund to proceed to drilling after one year of issuing them award certificates.

Speaking at the Arbiterz marginal oil field conference in Lagos, with the topic, “From License to Oil: Fundraising for Marginal Fields,” the Subsurface Manager, Energy and Mineral Resources Limited (EMR), Mr. Collins Ibekwe, said the government should consider providing bailout funds to the companies either in form of returning the signature bonuses or through any other form of financial assistance to them.

Ibekwe explained that his call for bailout fund for the awardees was based on the fact that there had been instances where government had to intervene to help businesses that were going through financial difficulties just to help them recover and continue to contribute to the nation’s economy.

He maintained that such intervention was needed for the current marginal oil field awardees to enable the companies have fund to proceed to drilling and help to achieve the nation’s aspiration of increasing oil production to three million barrels per day, raise the reserves to 40 million barrels and in turn boost government’s revenue and job creation.

Expressing pessimism about the companies achieving first oil quick enough, as recorded by a couple of the 2003 awardees, Ibekwe maintained that such government financial intervention was necessary to enable the companies recover from the huge burden they were made to suffer by paying the outrageous $125,000 as marginal fields bid round participation fee and the exorbitant $5 million to $40 million for signature bonus per oil field.

Ibekwe lamented that the government’s charges for the 2020 marginal field bid round participation and signature bonus were astronomically higher than the fees paid by companies during the 2003 bid round and even the fees that were to be paid by companies in the botched 2013 marginal oil field bid round.

He argued that the components of the 2020 bid process including the financial, regulatory, legal, international and other components were designed to essentially make the process very expensive for the bidders, saying the expensive nature of the bid process has eroded the commerciality of the assets.

The 2020 marginal oil field bid round started in June 2020 and by May, 2021, 161 companies were shortlisted as winners of the 57 marginal fields put on offer.

In May, 2021, the then industry regulator and organisers of the 2020 marginal field bid exercise, the defunct Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), which has been replaced by the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), presented award certificates to 80 of the awardees.

DPR had put the total value of the 57 marginal oil fields at not less than $500 million, having pegged the bid participation fee at $125,000 per company and between $5 million and $40 million as the signature bonus per field.

However, the NUPRC had disclosed that 80 per cent of the awardees had complied in terms of payment while closed to 90 per cent of the companies had complied in forming the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs).

The commission had also disclosed that the marginal oil fields awarded to 33 companies had been revoked following their inability to meet the 45 days deadline required to pay the signature bonus for the fields.

But in his intervention on how to make the marginal field licenses to producing oil, Ibekwe said, “My opinion is this: If we have to be truthful to ourselves, then we have to look at this holistically -think outside the box. What really should be done? Because I think those who put the process together were not long-term-focused. I think they were too short-term focused.

“But it should not be too late to say, let’s reverse this process. Let’s return this money; because to be honest with you, you may say, okay, my interest is to raise money for government. But really, is that an optimal expectation? Should it not be better for our expectation to be: let’s grow new businesses; let’s grow these marginal fields and have many new indigenous operators that are capable.

Also contributing at the session, Chief Executive Officer, Tritekk Consulting Limited and former Geoscience Business Manager, France, Schlumberger, Mr. Ayodele Fasakin, who equally observed that the signature bonus for the marginal fields was too expensive, adding that the NUPRC should be an active partner to the point of ensuring that operators secure funding to proceed to first oil rather than being interested in raising revenue for government.

In his remarks, Chief Executive Officer, NUPRC,  Gbenga Komolafe, who was represented by the commission’s Head of Basinal Assessment and Lease Administration, Mr. Edu Iyang, said the commission had engaged awardees to resolve issues arising from the 2020 marginal field award and had also concluded drafting of model licence document, which he said was critical for issuing the Petroleum Prospecting Licences (PPL) to the awardees.

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