NNPC Signs Three Deepwater Exploration Licenses

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has signed the Heads of Agreement and the Production Sharing Contracts (PSC) for three deepwater offshore blocks.

The agreements executed for blocks in Oil Prospecting Licenses (OPLs) 216, 247 and 249, saw the corporation securing a majority interest of 50 percent in the blocks to become joint owners.

This was against earlier arrangement where the Federal Government, through the NNPC, held 30 percent equity and the operating firm, 70 percent.

Also, by the signing of the PSC agreement for OPL 216 to confirm NNPC's acquisition of the 50 percent equity in the block in which lies the huge Agbami field, the four partners in the block have thus resolved the controversy that had dogged ownership of the acreage.

NNPC Group Managing Director, Engineer Funso Kupolokun, said in a statement that PSC agreement signed for the three blocks yesterday were the first under the present the "Back-in-Rights regulation" promulgated by the Federal Government.

According to Kupolokun, the regulation, which was in pursuant of the government's policy of increased participation of Nigerians through the NNPC in the deep offshore region, provided for the government to acquire five-sixths of interest held by Nigerian indigenous companies in the oil blocks.

Under the revised PSC agreement for the blocs, the NNPC and the operating firms were now designated as concessionaires and contractors. This is against previous arrangement where the NNPC merely served as the concessionaire For OPL 216, NNPC holds 50 percent, ChevronTexaco 32 percent, Petrobras 8 percent and local firm Famfa 10 percent.

In OPL 247, ChevonTexaco holds 40 percent, local firm Heritage 10 percent and the NNPC 50 percent, while in OPL 249, Chevron also holds 40 percent, indigenous firm Oil and Gas Limited, 10 percent and the NNPC 50 percent.

Kupolokun described the latest arrangement as "the present administration's bold move to ensure even spread of oil wealth among Nigerians."

"In 1993 some deepwater offshore concessions were awarded on a discretionary basis to a number of private Nigerian companies who did not have any previous petroleum development experience or expertise.

"They were expected to acquire this expertise through arrangements with foreign partners who they invariably assigned a maximum of 40% of their interest to," said the NNPC boss.

He, however, said that with the discovery of Bonga and Agbami deepwater fields, it became clear that if the general population of Nigerians were to benefit from the huge reserves in these fields, "there was compelling reason for government to exercise its rights of participation in these concessions as provided for in the petroleum law," Kupolokun added.

However, in the process of acquiring these rights, some of the indigenous companies, including Famfa and Heritage, sued the FG/NNPC.

Famfa for instance, originally ceded 40 percent interest in the Agbami field in OPL 216 to ChevronTexaco and retained 60 percent before NNPC cut it to 10 percent.

The legal tussle that followed Famfa protest of the acquisition delayed the take off of the project, which was to cost $2.5 billion to develop.

The NNPC has said it was aiming to have 40 percent or $1 billion of the total contract awards for the $2.5b Agbami deepwater offshore field, executed in Nigeria. The Corporation said it had designated the oil field, with a peak production target of 250,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), as a test case for its local content policy drive where it is aiming at achieving 50 percent by 2005.

ChevronTexaco has already issued tenders for bids from prospective companies for the construction of a floating, production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel for the field at a cost $800 million.

Famfa was, however, absent at yesterday's signing ceremony neither did the company send in any representation.

Also speaking at the event, Presidential Adviser on Energy, Dr. Edmund Daukoru, charged the operating companies to exhibit absolute diligence in executing the contract agreements and to always strive to fulfill the government's expectations in the area of job creation and provision of social services within the local communities.

Dakoru and the Kupolokun signed the documents on behalf of the Federal Government while the chief executives of the oil companies signed for their various firms.

Nigeria is looking towards deepwater exploration for increasing its reserves to 40 billion barrels by 2010. On the outcome of the recently concluded meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Daukoru said OPEC had accepted to receive submissions on Nigeria's request for higher production quota. "By May 1, these applications would have been processed and I have every belief that Nigeria would be successful this time", Daukoru said.