By Gabriel Ewepu
..42bn mt of bitumen reserves left to waste
NIGERIA’s bitumen deposit currently ranks second largest in the world spanning approximately 120kilometres with about 42.74 billion metric tonnes. Bitumen was first discovered in 1900, with focused exploration beginning in 1905. Bitumen deposits are found in Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, and Edo states.
Bitumen deposit also known as oil sands in the county could be found on both surface and sub-surface with an estimated 42 billion barrels of bitumen reserve in Ondo State only, and also adjudged to be with the largest deposit in Africa. Bitumen is a mixture of organic liquids that are highly viscous, black, sticky, entirely soluble in carbon disulfide, and composed primarily of highly condensed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Naturally occurring or crude bitumen is a sticky, tar-like form of petroleum which is so thick and heavy that it must be heated or diluted before it will flow. At room temperature, it has a consistency much like cold molasses. While refined bitumen is the bottom fraction gotten by fractional distillation of crude oil. It is the heaviest fraction and with the highest boiling point at 525 °C (977 °F). Its by-products include gasoline, fuel oil and asphalt.
Bitumen deposit is twice the amount of existing reserves of crude oil. If its potentials are holistically developed and harnessed it will go a long way to meet local demands for road construction and also become a major sub-sector for diversifying the economy and positioning it for huge foreign exchange earner for the country. Some of those who did extensive work on bitumen in Ondo include former governor of Ondo State, late Dr. Olusegun Agagu, and others.
According to Agagu’s finding about bitumen in the country there could be wells of bitumen which could only be seen on the surface, which has enormous commercial quantity for exploitation, and that could surpass the officially estimated 42.74bn metric tonnes.
Reports have it that currently the bitumen used in the country is processed from imported heavy crudes, in addition to bitumen imported to supplement local consumption, but heavy and extra heavy crude can be extracted from Nigerian tar sands, and sulphur and phenol can be derived from these crude grades.
This discovery of commercial quantity of such huge deposit of nature’s gift to the country its exploitation, exploration and exportation remain a big challenge.
The issue of technical expertise has been nothing to write home about, high cost of exploration and exploitation, continued dependence on oil as major foreign exchange earner has also bedevilled the industry’s development and attraction to investors.
According to the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi, about 80 per cent of asphaltic materials used for road construction in the country was still being imported into the country while 120km of bitumen lies fallow and untapped.
The bitumen industry has been at the lowest ebb due to lack of processing plants, interest of investors, poor political will with no drive to actualise the aspirations to unlock the potentials of this money spinning sector that has remained dormant and inactive for many decades.
The current Minister of Mines and Steel development promised when he visited Ondo State, which has the largest deposit of the commodity that priority will be given to investors that would build processing plants and added that the processing plants will boost local production, which in turn will help meet local demands and create job opportunities for the youth.
In view of this, the Minister disclosed that the Federal Government would partner with the state governments, investors and host communities to ensure a smooth coordination of the bitumen project development, to ensure that international best practices were strictly adhered to.
It is also important for the government to deliberately provide intervention funds for bitumen development, which will serve as a major attraction and a kind of value added measure for the industry that would attract investors.
The political-will to actualise the hopes, aspirations and expectations of host communities, must be demonstrated to make sure bitumen deposits across the country turn into beehive of activities that would boost the revenue generation and base of the country.
Notwithstanding, there should be holistic plan and measure put in place to protect the health and environment of the people are protected in order to prevent the recurrence of the experience caused by exploration, exploitation and production of oil and gas in the Niger Delta region.