By Clara Nwachukwu
Nigeria’s biggest and oldest refinery, the Port Harcourt Refining Company Limited, PHRC, is billed for another Turn Around Maintenance, TAM, more than 10 years after the last exercise, where about $364 million had already been sunk for the maintenance of the three refineries.
The Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Mr. Austen Oniwon, dropped the hint over the weekend in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, at a Town Hall Meeting with staff in the Eastern zone of the corporation.
He said the NNPC has outlined a grand plan to refurbish and upgrade existing units of the Port Harcourt Refinery through the execution of a comprehensive TAM exercise in the months ahead.
The TAM for the 210,000 barrels per day, bpd-capacity refinery has been brandished so many times in the past that it had become almost a political tool for successive administrations to reassure Nigerians of the ability of the NNPC to ensure sustainable fuel supply to consumers.
However, previous efforts at maintaining the existing refineries in the country, including Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna, with a combined capacity of 450,000bpd have not yielded the desired results, as Nigeria continues to import over 80 per cent of her fuel needs.
This is because none of the refineries had undergone the full TAM required to sustain operations as at when due.
But this planned TAM has a new twist, as Oniwon said the original contractors of the Refinery complex would be given priority in the award of the project.
“What we want to do is to undertake a different type of TAM that will guarantee maximum benefit. So we are going back to the original contractors who built all the units to ensure an effective and total refurbishment of the plant.
“Unlike in the past when the scope of work was not clearly specified, we intend to conduct a full scale technical audit with well defined scope of work for the contract,” Oniwon stated.
The PHRC came on stream in 1965, when it was constructed and commissioned as a 35,000 bpd hydro_skimming refinery by a consortium of British Petroleum and Shell. It was then known as the BP/Shell Petroleum Refining Company of Nigeria Limited.
In 1972, the refinery was expanded to 60,000 bpd capacity and renamed the Nigerian Petroleum Refining Company Limited, NPRC, after the acquisition of 50 percent shares of the company by the Federal and regional governments of Nigeria. The joint venture partners of BP/Shell and regional (now states) governments finally relinquished their shares to the Federal Government, resulting in the voluntary liquidation of the NPRC in January 1986, and take_over of the management by the NNPC.
Prior to this, the NNPC had, in 1985, through Spibat of France and the Japan Gasoline Corporation, JGC, commenced construction of a new 150,000bpd Refinery, which achieved mechanical completion in 1988. The same year, the old and the new refineries were brought under a single management by the NNPC, as the PHRC. The new refinery was commissioned in 1989.
Against this backdrop, it is uncertain which of these two original contractors would be offered the TAM job
Cost of maintenance
Although he did not give estimates, but the NNPC boss said the TAM may cost more to undertake a complete overhaul, adding that the NNPC is willing to go full throttle to ensure a successful TAM, which was last executed in year 2000.
About $364m has been sunk in previous TAM for the refineries. Recent industry statistics show that $75 million was sunk in the Kaduna refinery, while the Port Harcourt and Warri refineries gulped $137 million and $152 million respectively. Yet, none of them is running at half its full capacity.
Past leadership of the NNPC had quoted various figures ranging from $58million to $280m for the Port Harcourt Refinery TAM.
While urging the staff of the refinery and the entire Eastern zone to brace up for the challenges ahead, Oniwon also announced the authorisation of higher approval limits for the managing directors and managers of the three refineries across the country effective January, 2011.
He said the new limits, which are backed with apt checks and control measures to avoid abuse, are designed to promote seamless operation of the Refineries in line with the NNPC Transformation agenda.
Speaking on behalf of members of staff, the Vice Chairman, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, PHRC Branch, Mr. M.C Amadi, pledged the commitment of workers to align with Oniwon’s aspiration for the refinery.