Digging into endless search for inland crude oil
Moves by the Nigerian government to build up the nation’s oil reserve through exploration of new frontiers, has become the subject of controversy among experts and stakeholders.
The Federal Government had recently renewed interest in its quest to ensure that the country begins to explore crude oil outside of the Niger Delta region.
Barely a month ago, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), said that 21 oil wells out of the 23 drilled so far outside the Niger Delta have potential of full prospects of oil. NNPC said that a total of 23 oil wells have already been drilled by mining oil companies involved in oil exploration in the North, in the past 30 years. While two of them reportedly hit a dry run, 21 other wells were said to hold prospects of oil.
The exploration of the oil in the North has so far gulped about $340m and the NNPC is expecting to receive more money into the quest – in compliance with the recent presidential directive to resume oil exploration in the North.
The Guardian learnt that about N39.4b had been approved by the Federal Government to ensure full exploration of hydrocarbon in the North East and other basins outside the Niger Delta.
While many experts lauded the new move by the Federal Government, others believe that it is another exercise in futility.Specifically, some experts believed that the prospect of finding oil in the Chad Basin are more of politics, as it’s been proven that oil is not geography, but geology.This is because hydrocarbon cannot co-exist with solid minerals. The North is heavily endowed with so many minerals.
As such, pundits who have spoken on the prospects of the Chad Basin perhaps, are just humouring the political powers, rather than economic arguments.
For instance, a geologist in a Nigerian University who spoke on condition of anonymity described the search for crude oil in the Chad Basin as a wild goose chase, which would not result in tangible success.
The source said that he had done some study on the possibility of hydrocarbon in the Chad basin and is afraid to publish for the fear of loosing his job. “I believe the Federal Government is wasting money looking for hydrocarbon in the Chad basin.”
Also, a Northern Senator even called on the Federal Government to investigate the fund spent so far on the search for crude oil in the northern parts of the country.
The senator stated: “Oil exploration in the north has been carried out back to days far beyond that of former President Jonathan Goodluck. I am calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to order a probe into this questionable search for oil. Past leaders have amassed wealth through this venture, and I want the president to investigate this.
“If we cannot find oil, we must get our money back because so far over $3 billion had been wasted on oil exploration in the north, particularly in the Chad Basin and Benue trough”.
Some experts who spoke with The Guardian, said although, not much success has been recorded so far, application of new technology in the new oil search could bring positive result.
They emphasised the need for the Federal Government to adopt latest technology in its new quest for oil outside of the Niger Delta, as well as, explore solid mineral resource, which they said are in every part of the country, as part of its diversification strategies.
Professor of Applied Geophysics, University of Ibadan, Olayinka, Abel Idowu, said finding crude oil in commercial quantity couldn’t be ruled out, as oil has also been found in the Chad basins.
According to him, there is exploration already going on in the Niger side of the Chad basin, which gives the possibility of oil in the Nigeria part of the basin.He explained that there are many sedimentary basins in the northern part of the country, which is why government is trying to explore those basins called the new frontier.
He stated: “Up till now, most of the oil that has been found in Nigeria has been in the Niger Delta basin. You may also know that oil has been found off the coast of Lagos. When you have the sedimentary basin, the possibility of finding oil cannot be ruled out until you have done an extensive geological work. I think it also makes sense to the possibility of exploring crude oil in other basins”.
He pointed out that there have been reported cases of gas in the Chad basin, saying that crude oil has not been found in commercial quantity. “It is not just enough to find oil, we have to make sure it is available in commercial quantity. The truth of the matter is that you cannot foreclose the possibility of finding hydrocarbon. We have also found out there are abundance of gas in the frontier basin,” he said.
Idowu added, “They have to look closely at the scientific data, geological data and every other data and ensure that every opportunity has been explored before ruling out the possibility of finding oil in the basin. Until every opportunity has not been explored, it will not be wise to stop exploration completely. They should continue to collect ecological data to be able to say precisely what we have in the sub-surface.”
He also stressed the need for the government to employ latest technology, which he said, might facilitate the process of finding crude oil in the Chad basins. “The truth of the matter is that in the history of hydrocarbon exploration, there are areas where you have carried out Two Dimension Seismic (2Ds) study and you think there is no oil, with the application of latest technology by using 3Ds, oil has been found. Technology keeps improving and we have more sophisticated techniques, which may make oil easier to find in that basin”.
He emphasised the need for the Federal Government to utilise other resource, such as solid minerals, which he said are capable of generating revenue for the country.
According to him, solid minerals can be found in virtually every state of the federation. This, he believed, would reduce focus on oil revenue from the Niger Delta and help to solve the issue of militancy in the region. “It is in the interest of the country to explore other mineral resources, which would help reduce environmental degradation in the Niger Delta”.
The President, National Association of Petroleum Explorationists, Nosa Omorodion, argued that the renewed quest for hydrocarbon resources in sedimentary basins like the Chad Basin and Benue Trough and recent commencement of oil production from Dahomey and Anambra basins are developments that are set to alter the Nigerian oil and gas landscape.
He said that the county has attempted to go beyond Niger Delta by exploring in Benue Trough, to Anambra Basin, Naomey Basin, Gongola Basin, which are geared towards achieving one goal of increasing the country’s reserves and production rate.
“To achieve that, we need to look beyond what we are currently doing. Nobody can do that, but the oil finders who will find oil before you can produce. Now we have identified that the places where new discoveries can come from would be at the deeper levels,” he said.
He disclosed that Nigerian explorationists were elated that government has stepped up its endeavors in the search for oil in any region where prospective finds exist.
“As you are aware, the search is not limited to the Chad basin alone, but covers extensive inquest in the Nigerian Frontier Sedimentary Basins, which include Bida Dahomey, Anambra, Gongola/and the Sokoto Basins along the Middle/ Lower Benue Trough, Yola.
“NAPE has always advocated for fiscal regimes to be structured to encourage exploration in the frontier basins, in order to replace reserves. As for the potential of crude oil exploration, I would say that discoveries made in neighbouring countries in basins with similar structural settings such as Doba, Doseo and Bongor, all in Chad amounts to over 2billion barrels (bbbls).
“NNPC has over the years embarked on intense studies. Hydrocarbons were encountered in previous campaigns, but were not of enough commercial interest. The drive, focus and technical preparedness to resume exploration are commendable and they have not been shy in engaging the brightest minds and best available technology to minimize the risk and increase the chances of success. It can also be said of the Benue trough, which incidentally recorded some gas success in the previous campaign.
The country, he said also under utilises other energy sources such as bitumen, coal, lignite, and shale oil, thereby leading to a monoculture economy that is largely dependent on crude oil export.
Emphasising on the role, which technology would play in the country’s quest for hydrocarbon in the new frontier, Omorodion stated: “New technology has improved the quantity and quality of information available about different geological structures and this has enhanced the likelihood of finding oil and gas. I will give an example, today many new tools enable us to find deeper and harder to reach fields. As a matter of fact, it was technology that literally extended the reach of the industry in grilling into frontier fields and deeper depths.
“Additionally technology also helps to unlock new oil in old fields. I must commend the Federal Government’s intensified and intentional efforts in finding hydrocarbon in frontier basins. Finding more oil from these other fields will improve our reserves base and mitigate the short fall in production arising from disruptions in the Niger Delta.
“One other way technology has helped is in transforming resources once thought to be unconventional into conventional ones. Don’t forget that only forty years ago, all offshore oil was considered unconventional. Today, this portion of total global oil supply accounts for 30 per cent. Improved technology has improved recovery rates and extended the life of existing fields and some fields feared to be depleted have been brought back to life.”