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Flame at Last: Long Search for Oil in the North Yields Fruit

-By Fred Ojeigbe

Over 200 days after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) began drilling activities at the Kolmani River-II Well, a site near Barambu village in Alkaleri Local Government Area of Bauchi State, the corporation has formally announced discovery of hydrocarbon deposits therefrom, in what could best be described as special Independence Anniversary gift to the nation.

Valuechain reports that the delay in the release of information about drilling activities at the site might have fuelled concerns among industry stakeholders and the host communities.

A press release issued by the corporation’s Acting Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Mr. Samson Makoji, on 11th October, 2019 revealed that NNPC acquired 435.54km2 of 3D Seismic Data over Kolmani Prospect in the Upper Benue Trough, Gongola Basin. This was to evaluate Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo) Kolmani River 1 Well Discovery of 33 BCF and explore deeper levels.

“The well was drilled with IKENGA RIG 101 to a total depth of 13,701feet encountering oil and gas in several levels. A Drill Stem Test (DST) is currently on-going to confirm the commercial viability and flow of the Kolmani River reservoirs.”

It would be recalled that drilling of the Kolmani River II Well was flagged-off in a colourful ceremony by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 2nd of February, 2019 when the NNPC commissioned indigenous contractor Messrs Etihad Oilfield Services, a subsidiary of AA&R Investment Group, to undertake the spud-in (or drilling) of the well, the firm as well as the NNPC disclosed that drilling activities would be completed in about 60 days. “We are drillers and normally it takes us 60 days to drill a well. In 60 days you can come back and get feedback from NNPC,” the indigenous drilling company told newsmen on the sidelines of the launch of oil drilling at the site, according to the statement.

The announcement of the discovery by the spokesperson of the NNPC came at a time when many petroleum industry stakeholders were grumbling that eight months after the spud-in launched by the President, government is yet to make public the details of the drilling outcome and financial commitments into the project.

However, preliminary reports, according to Mr. Makoji, indicate that the discovery consists of gas, condensate and light sweet oil of American Petroleum Institute (API) gravity ranging from 38 to 41 found in stacked siliciclastic cretaceous reservoirs of Yolde, Bima Sandstone and Pre-Bima formations. “Computation of hydrocarbon volume is on-going and will be announced in due course.

“The Corporation has also acquired additional 1183km2 of 3D seismic data over highly prospective areas of Gongola Basin with a view to evaluating the full hydrocarbon potential of the Basin. NNPC has deployed world class cutting-edge technologies including Surface Geochemistry, Ground Gravity/Magnetic, Stress Field Detection, Full Tensor Gradiometry aerial surveys to de-risk exploration in the frontier basins. The NNPC plans to drill additional wells for full evaluation of the hydrocarbon volume in the Gongola Basin.”

It would be recalled that during the spud-in ceremony of Kolmani River II, President Muhammadu Buhari stated the commitment of his administration to the exploration for Oil and Gas in the frontier basins in the entire length and breadth of the country. The basins include: the Benue Trough, Chad Basin, Sokoto and Bida Basins.

Alhaji Bala Mohammed, Bauchi State Governor

He also stated that attention would be given to the Dahomey and Anambra Basins which have already witnessed oil and gas discoveries. The discovery of oil and gas in commercial quantity in the Gongola Basin will attract foreign investment, generate employment for people to earn income and increase government revenues.

Research conducted by Valuechain to understand how long it takes to drill a well showed that drilling depends on a lot of factors. It could depend on the drilling company involved, the depth of the well (shallow, deep, ultra-deep), type of well (gas or oil), and so many other factors. One rule of thumb is that it takes roughly 10 days to reach 10,000 feet, that’s in an environment where the sediments are geologically young and without much rock strength, therefore easily penetrated by a drill bit. The results might be different in another region.

However, it was found that drilling could range from 4 weeks to 6 months. Also putting into consideration that the rig could encounter challenges or the well could be “stubborn”.

In June when the Governor of Bauchi State, Senator Bala Mohammed, paid a business visit to NNPC in Abuja, then Group Managing Director of the corporation, Dr. Maikanti Baru said the drilling activity seemed to be taking a longer time because of the interest it had seen there.

“We planned the well to be done in 60 days but because of the interest we are seeing there we are doing intensive testing and we still have not hit the Total Depth (TD). We think that by next week we may be able to hit the TD of 14,250 feet,” he said.

In July during an inspection tour of the ongoing drilling operations at the Kolmani River-II Well site by Baru and his successor Mallam Mele Kyari, the immediate past GMD said with the level of commitment and dedication he has seen on the part of the exploration team, he could not wait for President Muhammadu Buhari to light the first flame at the area, signifying the potential discovery of hydrocarbons.

Experts are of the opinion that the initial silence or delay in releasing the outcome of the drilling activity was responsible for the unnecessary and unhealthy speculations about non-viability of the project.

Some are of the view that the delay could be as a result of unforeseen challenges principally because NNPC would have to drill deeper than the point that the international oil companies like Shell had drilled before.

The Kolmani River-II Well is one of four oil and gas wells that NNPC said were being planned for drilling this year on the Gongola Basin to further test the prospects identified around Kolmani River-1, Nasara-1 and Kuzari-1.

Shell had in 1999 drilled the first well in the Kolmani Rever-I but according to the Anglo Dutch oil giant the amount of hydrocarbon found was not commercial. “However, when we read the data, we observed that they did not go deep enough. So, we have come here based on the three dimensional seismic and other subsurface reviews and studies that we have done” Baru said.

“At the moment, we are looking at deep down, we are looking at kilometers below the ground, and nobody has gone there. It is only drilling that would confirm whether there is any resource there and also confirm our professional judgment which we have. So in terms of volumes, types and all that, let us wait,” Baru then said.

In 1993, the Federal Government awarded blocks in the Gongola basin to three international oil companies – Shell, Chevron and Total. The companies acquired data and drilled one well each. One of the wells drilled was the Kolmani River I which recorded about 3 billion standard cubic feet (scf) of gas, but was termed non-commercial. The oil giants, therefore, suspended operations and relinquished the blocks in 2000.

Following President Buhari’s fresh directive, the NNPC acquired advanced data and technology to drill deeper for more discoveries. The NNPC said it acquired 3D seismic data over the Kolmani River area, leading to the identification of six prospects, including the Kolmani River II well where drilling commenced earlier in the year.

The former NNPC GMD, Baru indicated that while the international oil companies, which previously explored the basin through Kolmani River 1 well, drilled down to less than 9,000 feet, the corporation would go as deep as 14,500 feet in the Kolmani River II well. Interestingly, according to Mr. Makoji, the new discovery was fruitful at a total depth of 13,701 feet.

“At the moment, we are looking at deep down, we are looking at kilometers below the ground, and nobody has gone there. It is only drilling that would confirm whether there is any resource there, as well as confirm the professional judgment we have. So, in terms of volumes, types and all that, let us wait. “We have six prospects we have identified in the Kolmani River basin. After this is successful we are going to the next location, which would be the Kolmani River III, which is just 1.7 to 2.0 kilometres from here,” Baru added.

“It usually takes time for oil to be discovered. In the Niger Delta basin, it took over 50 years for explorations to discover crude oil. Niger Republic drilled over 600 wells and over many years before they discovered crude oil. Therefore, Mr. President, patience is of essence here,” he said.

Records indicate that oil was first discovered in Nigeria in the year 1956 at Oloibiri, in the present day Bayelsa State of the Niger-Delta region of the country after half a century of exploration. Since then, the proceeds realized from the sale of the commodity have been the economic backbone of the country. Over the years, Nigeria has relied so much on oil in such a way that the country’s budget is always determined by the forecast of the global oil market price as a benchmark.

Considering the relevance of oil in the country’s economic survival, successive administrations have made efforts to expand the search for it to various parts of the country. It will be recalled that prospecting for oil and gas in the Benue Trough of the Gongola Basin started about 20 years ago, but with disruptions attributed to politics of dichotomy.

Valuechain gathered that the search for oil in the Lake Chad Basin area of Northern Nigeria, which began more than 35 years ago, is yielding results as about 21 oil wells out of the 23 drilled so far are said to have the potential or full prospects of oil. In addition to the need to increase the nation’s reserves, the exploration activities is been encouraged due the reality of discoveries made in neighboring countries in basins with similar structural geologic settings as compared to those in Nigeria.

According to Valuechain findings, these discoveries include Doba, Doseo and Bangor, all in Chad amounting to over two billion barrels; Logone Birni in Southern Chad and Northern Cameroun, over 10 billion barrel; and Agadem Basin in Niger, which totals over one billion barrels.