News / Africa

Oil Giants to Stay Onshore Nigeria Despite Grumbles

A Shell employee is seen aboard an oil vessel off the coast of Nigeria in this December 26, 2011 file photo.A Shell employee is seen aboard an oil vessel off the coast of Nigeria in this December 26, 2011 file photo.
x
A Shell employee is seen aboard an oil vessel off the coast of Nigeria in this December 26, 2011 file photo.
A Shell employee is seen aboard an oil vessel off the coast of Nigeria in this December 26, 2011 file photo.
Reuters
A wave of planned sales of onshore Nigerian assets by major oil companies has prompted speculation that they are finally leaving the Niger Delta because of oil theft, gangsterism and political uncertainty.         

In reality, though, foreign firms such as Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Eni and Total are here to stay, industry sources say. The companies are likely to sell only small blocks that are not worth their while; those assets worst affected by theft and sabotage or fields that risk expropriation in a government push to promote local ownership.    

Meanwhile, the large oil producing blocks, huge gas deposits, key pipelines and the export terminals that control the passage of onshore oil to international markets will most likely stay in their hands, enabling them to retain infrastructure for which they can charge rent to other users.

Complaints by oil giants that Nigeria has done little to combat oil theft or end uncertainty over changes to the fiscal regime by passing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) are genuine, but they won't drive the firms away from the country.

“Nigeria's 'difficult' operating environment, security concerns and the non-passage of the PIB all provide useful cover for what may essentially be a portfolio optimization process,” said Razia Khan, Head of Africa Research at Standard Chartered.

The global shale oil and gas boom means there are more exploration opportunities, so it makes financial sense to keep only the most profitable businesses in Nigeria, like gas for LNG export, and expand deep offshore where there is no oil theft.  If anything, they will use their grievances as leverage in negotiations with government over licenses and taxes.

Oil theft headaches

Nigeria's oil production, which fluctuates between 2-2.5 million barrels per day (bpd), is unlikely to be hugely affected by any oil block sales in the short-term and could get an uplift in the future if smaller local companies work harder to exploit reserves or can better stem insecurity with local communities.

Tycoon’s Tony Elumelu and Wale Tinubu, the Oando CEO, both of them negotiating to buy oil blocks off major companies, told Reuters in recent interviews they thought it would be easier for Nigerian companies with a better understanding of local issues to manage often fraught community relations.

But ending oil theft, officially estimated at 250,000 bpd, is a massive undertaking. It is often associated with criminal gangs who tap crude from pipelines for local refining, but most stolen crude leaves the country in large tankers, which could not happen without the complicity of top officials.

Shell, the largest producer in Nigeria, said last week it took a $700 million hit from theft and other issues in Nigeria, as well as the tax impact of a weakening Australian dollar.

Shell's share of output in Nigeria fell to 158,000 bpd in the second quarter, down from 260,000 bpd in 2012.

Shell CEO Peter Voser nevertheless told Reuters this month the company was not seeking to leave Nigeria.

Eni said it had lost 30,000 bpd of output in the first half of the year due to theft and CEO Paolo Scaroni said the company was “reviewing its position” in Nigeria.

Total declined to comment on its plans.

Shell, which has already sold eight blocks in the Niger Delta for around $1.8 billion since 2010, announced it will sell more fields amounting to 80,000-100,000 bpd, although it is not clear if this level of output is yet being produced.

Chevron is also selling five shallow water blocks, but would not comment further on its plans for Nigeria, while fellow U.S. firm ConocoPhillips is selling its Nigerian businesses to Oando for about $1.79 billion.

Political uncertainty

Theft may not be the only reason for selling down.

The PIB, although still in a political deadlock that has lasted five years, could change the terms for foreign companies in Nigeria and will promote local ownership of onshore blocks.

Shell, Chevron, Eni and Total have been in failed negotiations with the Nigerian government for several years to renew expired licenses on many onshore and shallow water blocks.

“Perhaps they would rather sell licenses while they still can rather than having to relinquish them for nothing,” said Antony Goldman, head of Africa-focused PM Consulting.

Yet Shell recently announced it would spend $3.9 billion on a gas project and a reconstruction of a better protected Trans Niger pipeline, one of the country's most important crude oil routes and one that’s often hit by outages caused by theft or sabotage. That suggests it still sees value working onshore in Nigeria.

Shell may even buy one of Chevron's blocks, two sources told Reuters, which would provide the perfect route from one of Nigeria's largest gas fields to its LNG export terminal.

Nigeria holds the world's ninth largest gas reserves, most of which are untapped. Major energy firms are increasingly moving towards gas production instead of oil in the Niger Delta.

Companies such as Shell will likely keep large pipelines and export terminals, so even if local firms are getting the oil out of the ground, where the risks of insecurity are highest, the major companies can make a cut from taking oil to international markets.

“Oil majors want to keep control of this infrastructure as it means they will have a large degree of control of onshore assets and derive revenue from transportation,” said Kayode Akindele, partner at Lagos-based investment firm 46 Parallels.

There is no guarantee that deals on assets that the major firms do want to sell can be easily or quickly completed - Nigeria has one of the world's slowest oil contract approval times, experts say.

Some of Shell's previous divestments took years to negotiate. Buyers will also be wary of the state oil company's production arm NPDC taking over the operating rights - as it has on previous Shell field sales where the private buyers were expecting to operate them.

Yet for the all the pitfalls, Nigeria will be keen to close the deals, which please the political elite and public alike.

“The divestment is a positive step for all the major players involved ... (it) will have a positive knock-on impact on production longer-term,” said Martin Kelly, Wood Mackenzie's lead analyst for Sub-Saharan Africa Upstream Research. “But ... in order to make a noticeable difference other challenges need to be addressed - like the PIB and security,” he added.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid