Oil Majors Move to Scuttle $50bn Chinese Offer

THIS DAY Newspaper- Ijeoma Nwogwugwu and Constance Ikokwu

Oil Majors Move To Scuttle $50bn Chinese Offer
Wednesday, 07 October 2009 07:31 edit2
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By Ijeoma Nwogwugwu and Constance Ikokwu

Concerns over the possibility of losing 16 prolific oil mining leases (OMLs) held for over 40 years by the international oil companies (IOCs) has led to intense lobbying and intrigues to delay the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) currently at the National Assembly. The PIB, which has gone through the third reading in both chambers of the National Assembly, will repeal several of the existing oil industry legislations and usher in a revolutionary era in the manner the oil and gas sector operates. But major multinational oil firms - Shell, ChevronTexaco, TotalfinaElf, Agip and Exxon-Mobil - have upped the ante through intensive lobbying in the National Assembly to delay the passage of the PIB until next year and force the hand of the Federal Government to renew their leases under existing terms before they finally expire at the end of this month.

Specifically, the IOCs are concerned that the 16 oil blocks they have held since 1968 under joint venture contracts (JVCs), for which their leases expired between November and December last year and renewed for a year by the Yar’Adua administratiron, may form part of the 23 blocks currently being eyed by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

CNOOC recently made a $50 billion offer to the Federal Government to acquire a 49 per cent stake, translating to 6 billion barrels in oil reserves in 23 of the oil leases held by the IOCs. In its quest to acquire 6 billion barrels of oil, the CNOOC, acting under the auspices of Sunrise Consortium, applied for 49 per cent equity participation in the following blocks: i. OMLs 67, 68, and 70; ii. OMLs 11 and 13; iii. OMLs 71, 72, 74, 77, 79, 83, 85, 86, 88, 89, 90, 91, 95, 118, 127, 133, 139 and 140. All the blocks are held by the IOCs.

The request is being given consideration as instructions have gone out for the data on the blocks to be released to Sunrise by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). In addition, a negotiating committee has been set up in NNPC to handle discussions with the company.

The committee is to consider the request and determine an optimum price for the reserves in the blocks against the backdrop of the offer made by CNOOC. The oil companies had expected the automatic renewal of licences which expired last year.

But the Federal Government stalled that move, preferring to renew them for only one year in order to take into account the realities of the present times with the passage of the PIB. However, the IOCs are currently pushing hard to get the 16 expired leases renewed a second time under long-term leases that would carry similar terms and conditions as the subsisting JV leases.

But the government has balked at the idea of renewing the expired leases for longer periods because it is conscious of the fact that the PIB would usher in an entirely new regime that would require the incorporation of the JVs and even change the terms for the existing Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs) governing newer leases yet to expire.

Furthermore, a delay of the passage of the bill would stall efforts by the Federal Government to give a stake in the existing oil leases to the oil communities in the Niger Delta as contained in the draft legislation with the parliament as now being proposed. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, it was gathered, is eager to see the oil communities get some interest in the oil leases operated under the JVCs, which will be hived out from either the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC’s) or the oil major, or both stakes.

A clause in the proposed PIB provides for compensation to the oil communities in the Niger Delta by giving them a sense of ownership for natural resources drilled from their backyard. But the companies would prefer that the communities get their share of oil proceeds only through the Federal Government's stake in the JVs while they keep their 40 per cent of the deal. In a memo written by the NNPC which was obtained exclusively by THISDAY, a breakdown of the 23 blocks shows that 18 are currently held under joint venture arrangements while the remaining five are operated under the PSCs. Of the JV blocks, 16 expired late last year while two are due for renewal in 2019.

Also, virtually all the expired blocks are located in the continental shelf (shallow offshore) except the two unexpired ones that are located onshore. The PSCs were only recently converted to OMLs and are not due for renewal until 2020 at the earliest.

Expectedly, all the PSC blocks are located in the deepwater and belong in the first set of deep offshore blocks awarded in the 1993 licensing round. A further analysis shows that seven of the oil blocks are held by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of which five expired in November 2008; four are held by Exxon-Mobil of which three expired in December 2008; 10 are held by Chevron of which eight have expired; one is held by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO – Shell deep offshore subsidiary); and one is held by TotalfinaElf. If the PIB is passed, it will not be business as usual because the IOCs will have less influence in the operations of the incorporated joint ventures (IJVs), which will now be restructured to reflect the new ownership structure, board composition and management of the leases.

For a long time, the general perception was that the Federal Government has not been getting the best possible deal under the JVs because even though NNPC currently holds a majority stake of 57 per cent across board and is supposed to provide its share of the funding in proportion to its equity stake in the contracts, it has long been suspected that the JVs are entirely funded by the Nigerian government when the cash calls are paid.

With the passage of the PIB, Nigeria through NNPC will have a say in the day-to-day operations of the JVs, will be able to monitor how they are funded by all the partners in the agreement and will cease to be reliant on the Federal Government for the funding of the leases, as the IJVs can raise money from markets under commercial terms. Similarly, the PIB proposes to review several of the contract terms for the PSCs, particularly those governing the older PSCs signed in 1993, which conceded zero per cent royalties to the IOCs, among other unfavourable terms. The bill will result in the repeal of the Petroleum Act of 1969 as amended, Petroleum Profit Tax Act as amended, the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act of 1999 as amended, the NNPC Act and PPPRA Act. Also, the Oil Pipelines Act, Associated Gas Re-injection Act and Regulations, Petroleum Equalisation Fund Act and Petroleum Technology Development Fund Act and other laws might also be repealed in the process.

THISDAY learnt that the companies are hoping that if they are able to successfully mount pressure on the National Assembly to delay the bill, they can win the fight. High stakes politics has since engulfed the industry with the Chinese lobbying to acquire substantial interests as well.

They are said to be very adept at campaigning for a non-renewal of the licences of oil majors. It is further expected that the bill would enable the government to restructure the NNPC into a profit-driven company as obtained in other oil producing countries. It will also lead to the creation of the National Petroleum Directorate that will be responsible for policies in the oil and gas sector and the creation of several new companies, including the Nigerian Petroleum Inspectorate (NPI), the National Petroleum Products Regulatory Authority (NPPRA), the National Petroleum Assets Management Agency (NAPAMA) and the Nigerian National Oil Company Ltd (NNOC) as the successor to NNPC.

Others are the Nigerian Petroleum Research Centre (NPRC), and the National Frontier Exploration Service. The Petroleum Technology Development Fund and Petroleum Equalisation Fund would also be restructured in line with the oil and gas policy.

The Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on Petroleum, Dr. Muhammed M. Ibrahim and the Secretary/Legal Adviser of NNPC, Professor Yinka Omorogbe, have all described the bill “as a most comprehensive piece of legislation creating a legal and regulatory framework that was transparent, effective and 21st century compliant”.


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