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CNOOC $50bn offer for Nigeria’s oil: Trappings of a scam

INDICATIONS are that that the recent Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) offer of $50 billion for acquisition of six billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves in Nigeria’s onshore and deep offshore portfolios holds all the trappings of an unfolding scam.

Yar Adua
Yar Adua

Oil industry operators who spoke with Sweet crude noted that the proposition appears impractical and could only be targeted at defrauding CNOOC or worst still, a poor way of blackmailing the multinational oil companies to support the reform contained in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

Thisday Newspapers provided an extensive coverage of this deal in its lead publication of October 7, 2009.
The Thisday lead article gave details of some 16 oil blocks to be involved in the deal including OML 11, the largest and most prolific oil blocks in the Niger Delta, operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria. The list includes all of Chevron’s assets in Nigeria as well as the most prolific blocks of ExxonMobil.

The proposed deal is not limited to Joint Venture oil blocks but also extends to the most prolific Deep Offshore Blocks, Bonga operated by Shell; Erha operated ExxonMobil, Agbami operated by Chevron and Akpo operated by Total.

Sweet crude investigations revealed that Sunrise, the Nigerian company reportedly leading CNOOC in the deal with the Government is a hitherto unknown company with no known industry experience except that the promoter of this company, Olayitan Adesanya, is allegedly the same person whose proposition landed Dr. Funsho Kupolokun and Dr. Edmund Daukoru in jail over the offshore storage saga in the 1990’s. |

Adesanya also allegedly dragged the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) before arbitration claiming a breach of contract over crude oil lifting and the matter lingered till 2006 when he was awarded $5 million. Investigations revealed that former President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to pay the arbitration award when the matter came up for consideration.

“How come, this person has suddenly become a believable character to Government in a deal reported to be worth $50 billion? Is he not taking the Government and its officials on a dream ride, while at the same time claiming support funding from CNOOC and hyping media attention to create noise and justify the funds he is collecting? Is this not another case of 419 on a massive scale, luring the highest level of Government? I think our eyes have to open!” A director in the ministry of petroleum resources volunteered.

“We are quite skeptical about the 6 billion barrel figure. It’s hard to see them being able to take that amount without serious disruption to the industry. To get 6 billion barrels from 23 blocks would be quite extraordinary,” said Holly Pattenden, oil analyst at Business Monitor International.

It was gathered that CNOOC has voted huge funds to facilitate acquisition of these blocks because management of the company has been convinced it is possible. Perhaps this accounts for the buzz in the media in the last one month about news of the proposed acquisition of six (6) billion proven oil reserves in Nigeria.

Further investigations revealed that the DPR was reported to have been directed to handover all data on the affected oil blocks to CNOOC and the NNPC has set up a negotiating team to work out the details of the deal with CNOOC.
Alarmed by the development but constrained by the strictures of operating in a government owned enterprise, a senior management staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) noted that government has to respect the rule of law and pursue a policy that is practical and will not irreparably damage the oil sector.

“Six billion barrels of oil reserves represent about 20% of the entire reserves of the country. Are the 6 billion barrels expected to come off the NNPC’s approximately 60% ownership of the reserves in Nigeria? If so, that will mean reducing the stake of NNPC from 60% to 40% of the reserves. In a country whose budget is premised on the share of oil production allocated to NNPC, that means that NNPC’s expected revenue will decrease by 20%. Can the country afford this?” He queried.

Checks revealed that all the 16 oil blocks are being operated by multi-national oil companies who have subsisting contracts with the Government on these oil blocks and when the licenses expire, the companies are entitled to a renewal albeit on new commercial terms to be agreed, provided they have operated the blocks to the satisfaction of Government.

So far, the Government have not communicated any issues of infractions on the integrity of the joint venture agreement in respect of their operations and further checks revealed that if there are any issues of such infractions, government is the guilty party.

Further checks revealed that in the case of the deep offshore blocks, all the Production Sharing Contracts are still alive and any attempt to forcefully take away the rights of the multinationals would see the companies drag the Government down the line of arbitration

Currently, there are subsisting litigation cases brought by Shell in respect of the shallow offshore blocks OML 71, 72, 74, 77 and 79.

The CNOOC offer have raised several questions and these include; nearly all of the oil blocks are presently under production by the oil companies and should the blocks be taken from them and given to CNOOC, who will operate the blocks?

What onshore operational experience does CNOOC have and how would the operations be transferred to it?
Given that the blocks in question currently produce over 60% of Nigeria’s current production; can this portion of the country’s production be risked to CNOOC if the operations can even be transferred to it?
State-owned oil company, CNOOC is China’s no. 3 oil and gas producer and an offshore specialist.

Cheap blackmail
Although the notion of this type of deal appears impractical, prominent Government representatives including the Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, the Minister of Petroleum Resources Tanimu Yakubu, the Economic Adviser to the President have been reported as confirming that such negotiations is ongoing.

To underscore concerns that the CNOOC offer amounts to cheap blackmail, the Economic Adviser to the President is reported to have stated that, the oil companies should offer the Government something similar to what CNOOC has offered as if this was trading crayfish in the open market. However, oil and gas operations are far more serious than signature bonus.

The PIB connection
Oil industry operators have also decried attempts to use the CNOOC offer to underscore the need for passage of the PIB noting that nothing could be more disjointed. While the PIB advocates mandatory relinquishment of licenses, it is important to note that the acreage under license underpins the future success of the incorporated joint venture.

Concerns are that if the PIB seeks to address the recurring problem of funding the joint ventures by incorporating them, how can this be achieved, if the same bill seeks to whittle down the reserve portfolio of the joint venture  rendering them less bankable?

Who produces Nigerian oil?
Oil production in Nigeria remains divided on a roughly a 60-40 percent basis between majority shareholder, state-owned NNPC and its main equity partners – Shell, Chevron, Exxon, ConocoPhillips, ENI and Total.

Shell was by far the largest producer, contributing around 40 percent of total Nigerian production in 2005. However, since early 2006 a flurry of militant attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure has cut Shell’s production by more than half, leaving ExxonMobil as the largest producer.

How foreign firms gains access?
The Nigerian government periodically conducts licensing rounds for new blocks. Foreign oil companies can then bid for a share in these areas and if successfully are requested to pay up the signature bonus and enter into agreement with the NNPC which mostly keeps a majority stake.

CNOOC prospects in Nigeria
CNOOC could bid for new licenses, likely for deep offshore fields, or for fields in development but it is unlikely to be able to oust Western oil companies from fields already producing unless they agree a buyout, analysts said.

CNOOC has, the FT reported, contacted the Nigerian government but in many instances it cannot sell shares in licenses already agreed so CNOOC may have to approach oil firms directly.

Analysts said if CNOOC is going to bid it is likely to be for new oil opportunities or areas that firms working in Nigeria are keen to offload.

“I think the Chinese could potentially take on new acreage,” said Tom Pearmain, African analyst at IHS Global Insight.
“But if it’s the Nigerian government saying for example: the Western majors have 50 percent of this block and then we’re going to give 20 percent to China I can’t see that ending anywhere but in court.”
Chinese firms in Nigeria

China’s government and its state-controlled companies have invested billions of dollars in Africa to secure natural resources for the Asian giant’s growing economy and build Beijing’s political influence.

In April 2006, CNOOC bought a stake in a Nigerian deepwater oilfield for $2.7 billion, while other Chinese oil firms including China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) and Petrochina are already working in Nigeria and expansion of Chinese involvement has been anticipated for some time.

“Involvement of CNOOC isn’t a surprise. Chinese commitment to the acquisition of crude reserves is accelerating,” said a West African crude dealer at an Asian trading house.
Nigeria’s reserve portfolio

Nigeria produced 1.87million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil in September according to the International Energy Agency. This is well below its potential as the country’s installed capacity is 3.3million bpd or more.
The country holds proven oil reserves of 36.2 billion barrels, according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, the second-largest in Africa after Libya.

Nigeria and the IOCs
Nigeria is a significant source of supply for the Western oil firms operating there. According to company publications, Shell got 16 percent of its total oil output from Nigeria in 2007, while Total in 2008 received 11 percent of its oil from the country.

Volume of Nigeria’s oil going to China
China is a significant buyer of West African crude, mostly Angolan barrels, although purchases of Nigerian crude have been on the increase in the last six months.

China purchased 32 cargoes of West African crude oil in September, according to a Reuter’s survey. Around eight of these cargoes, or 250,000 barrels per day, were from Nigeria, traders said.


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