According to industry experts and analysts, the departure of Shell and other international oil companies from Nigeria’s onshore oil sector has created a glimmer of hope for local firms to potentially reverse the decline in oil production in the Niger Delta. This revelation was subtly suggested in a recent report. Shell, a leading Western corporation, has made a significant move by withdrawing from the Delta region. This region has long been plagued by issues such as widespread pollution, oil theft, and pipeline vandalism, all of which have hindered investments, disrupted production, and adversely affected government revenues.
In a new development, the well-known oil conglomerate has revealed its decision to offload its affiliated entity, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), to a group of five predominantly domestic enterprises. This move aligns with the current inclination of Western energy corporations to divest their interests in Nigerian onshore oil reserves. In recent times, several major companies including Exxon, Eni from Italy, Equinor from Norway, and Addax from China, have entered into agreements to divest their assets in the nation. According to industry authorities, the big players such as Shell and Exxon are not investing substantial amounts of money in the development of onshore assets. As a result, this lack of investment is speeding up the decline in production.
Independent companies to boost production more effectively.
Roger Brown, the CEO of Seplat Energy in Nigeria, acknowledged that the big oil companies have decreased their investments in onshore projects over a long period of time. Brown attributed this decline to a range of local problems, as well as the obstacle of major oil companies having to compete for financial resources with their assets in other regions, like Guyana, which may appear more appealing. According to Brown, the independent companies are expected to boost production more effectively compared to the International Oil Companies (IOCs). This is primarily due to their willingness to invest in the sector. In February 2022, Seplat revealed its plans to acquire Exxon’s onshore assets. However, the company is currently in a state of anticipation as it awaits the necessary regulatory approval for the deal to proceed.
Shell’s asset sale in Nigeria is expected to receive prompt approval upon completion of the required paperwork, according to Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Petroleum. The minister further emphasized that this opportunity will enable local companies to effectively step in and fill the resulting void. While Seplat, First E&P, and Heritage successfully increased production and minimized oil spills on assets acquired from Shell, Aiteo Eastern E&P and Eroton Exploration faced challenges with leaking pipelines and oil spills.
Major companies have been withdrawing and reducing their investments.
As stated by Andrew Matheny, a senior economist at Goldman Sachs, Nigeria has faced persistent and deeply rooted issues concerning the policy in the oil sector. These policy concerns have resulted in limitations on investments, which is likely one of the reasons why major companies have been withdrawing and reducing their investments in the country. He highlighted how it elucidates a substantial segment of the decrease in oil output witnessed in recent times, he pointed out. In May, President Bola Tinubu assumed leadership with a promise to alleviate the challenges faced by producers. This encompassed putting a stop to crude theft and pipeline vandalism. However, after seven months in office, the ongoing asset sales, which had commenced prior to his appointment, serve as a clear representation of the inevitable transformations occurring within Nigeria’s oil industry.
Seyi Awojulugbe, a senior analyst at SBM Intelligence in Lagos and a security consultancy expert, highlighted the inherent risks of conducting business in Nigeria. As companies increasingly shift their focus from onshore to offshore operations, it paints a vivid portrait of the challenges and uncertainties that exist in the country. In the past decade, Shell experienced a significant decline in its production share in Nigeria. Once reaching a peak of 300,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d), the company’s output plummeted to 131,000 boe/d in 2022. According to Shell’s annual reports, this decline was attributed to sabotage and theft issues in the Niger Delta.
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However, according to Richard Bronze, the leading expert on geopolitical matters at Energy Aspects in London, he pointed out that local companies are at a disadvantage due to their limited financial resources compared to the powerful oil giants. This discrepancy may have a significant impact on their future production capabilities. According to Brown, the availability of cheaper capital becomes irrelevant for oil majors who choose not to invest. Local banks, as well as some global lenders and oil traders, also serve as alternative sources of funding for local companies. He mentioned that although it will be accessible, it will not have a low price attached to it. However, given the current oil prices, he emphasized that local enterprises will have the financial capacity to embark on its development.