What Nigerians expect from proposed petroleum industry law – Experts

With the June 2018 deadline fast approaching for submission of the amended draft Petroleum Industry Governance Bill by the National Assembly to the president for assent, oil and gas industry experts on Tuesday expressed their views on expectations about the new law.

The consensus by participants at a symposium on: “Next Steps for the Petroleum Industry Bill” organised by the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, (NEITI) was for the PIGB to provide a legal framework to check lack of transparency, accountability and equity in the management of the industry.

The event organised in collaboration with the Facility for Oil Sector Transformation in Extractive industry, (FOSTER) was attended by representatives of key industry players, agencies and civil society organisations.

In his introductory remarks, the Executive Secretary of NEITI, Waziri Adio, said the petroleum industry remained the backbone of the country’s economy and national life, as still accounted for almost 60 per cent of government revenues and more than 80 per cent of export earnings.

Mr. Adio underlined the need to govern and run the industry in a more transparent, accountable, equitable, efficient and optimal manner in the country’s collective interest.

He lamented the loss of over $200 billion in the last eight years as cost of business uncertainty, lack of clarity and inadequate transparency mechanisms in the petroleum industry.

With recent assurances by the National Assembly that the harmonised version of the PIGB would soon be sent to the president for assent, Mr. Adio said the symposium was organised to enable all interest groups discuss the next steps, to ensure the objectives of the proposed law were realised.

The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, described the timing of the symposium as apt, reiterating the country’s upstream oil sector aspirations to include growing crude oil reserves to 40 billion barrels and daily production to four million barrels, improving local content, maximising sector value and deriving as much revenue from gas as from oil.

The minister, who was represented by his Senior Technical Assistant, Johnson Awoyemi, said achieving these aspirations required reforms to overhaul the multiple laws governing oil and gas exploration and production to help the country meet its potentials.

He said the PIGB was an attempt to establish an effective institutional framework and structures for a commercially-driven petroleum industry, while also promoting transparency in the administration of the country’s petroleum resources.

Mr. Kachikwu said passing the PIGB into law was a national priority, as it would enable certainty and clarity over petroleum industry operations and foster more oil licensing rounds, enhance revenues and increased economic activities.

A former Director, Department of Petroleum Resources, Osten Olorunsola, said a new legal framework through the PIGB was all about growth for the petroleum industry and the need to make the country competitive again as well as promote ease of doing business.

Mr. Olorunsola, who is also the Chairman, Energy Institute Nigeria, said the core of Nigerians’ expectations was for the law to simplify the management of the country’s petroleum resources to unleash transparent and valuable goods.

“We want a new law that would guarantee strong and transparent institutions; a fair and equitable share of the oil and gas resources; shares prosperity and inclusiveness; directs impact to the communities and not the tokenism going on now,” he said.

He identified some areas the new law must address, including administration of oil licenses and permits, management of acreages, assignment and transfer of operational interests, marginal fields allocation, abandonment, decommissioning of oil fields, prohibition of gas flaring, domestic supply of crude oil and gas as well as management of refineries.

Besides, he said, the law must guarantee open access to assets, simplicity, predictability and certainty of terms for investors.

He said as a result of the uncertainty in the petroleum industry, about 144 production days were lost last year, pointing out that this was not sustainable if the country was to generate more revenue and grow.

During the plenary session, discussants identified opaque acreage management and allocation as one of the key problems of the industry, saying the expectation of Nigerians was for the PIGB to address the weakness of discretionary award of licenses and permits by officials.

Citing the example of OPL 245, which is currently entangled in a legal challenge across different jurisdictions, Senior Technical Adviser to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Tim Okon, said the PIGB must be “responsible, by promoting fairness, equity and integrity”.

Besides, Mr. Okon said, the general expectation was for a new law that would be enabling, by the State not being a hindrance to the legitimate aspirations of citizens, through accountable, transparent and sustainable terms.

A representative of the Oil Producers Trade Section of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kester Mogbile, said expectations of its members were for the PIGB to foster an enabling environment to create value for both the country and investors, by growing production and increasing revenues on a sustainable basis.

Mr. Mogbile said the PIGB must create opportunity to boost commercial returns to encourage the development of new oil fields.

For Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri of Spaces for Change, Nigerians, particularly from oil producing communities, expect the PIGB to redress the lack of transparency in the industry, curb political interference and address environmental problems in the oil producing areas.

“Providing the regulatory framework to address environmental concerns should be uppermost in the PIGB. The environment where the impact of the operations of the petroleum industry is felt most. The PIGB should ensure the issue of discretion in the management of industry is laid to rest finally,” Ms. Ibezim-Ohaeri said.

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