The Federal Government on Thursday said it would halt oil exploration in the Lake Chad Basin following Tuesday’s attack on explorers that led to at least 27 deaths.
The government also gave reasons why it continued with the exploration despite Boko Haram attacks in Borno, saying it did so only after it got security assurances from the military.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, who said these on Thursday, said Nigeria will only resume its search for oil in the Lake Chad Basin when it gets security clearance.
Mr. Kachikwu described Tuesday’s kidnap of oil workers by suspected Boko Haram insurgents in the area as a major setback to Nigeria’s quest for oil in the northern part of the country.
The minister, who was speaking with journalists in Abuja, said following the attack, government resolved to suspend oil exploration activities in the Basin until the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC received security clearance to resume.
Members of an oil exploration crew working for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC in the region were ambushed and abducted on Tuesday by armed insurgents near Jibi Village in Gubio Local Government Area of Borno State.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how at least 27 people died after rescue efforts by soldiers and members of the Civilian Joint Task Force, CJTF. The victims included soldiers, CJTF members, and university staff.
One of the staff of the University of Maiduguri killed during the attack was buried on Thursday.
While addressing journalists, Mr. Kachikwu sympathised with the families of the victims of the Boko Haram attack.
The Minister said details of those who lost their lives during the attack were still being collated, saying the ministry would release the information at the appropriate time.
The NNPC spokesperson, Ndu Ughamadu, had said members of the exploration crew consisted of staff of the Geology Department of the University of Maiduguri hired as sub-contractors to two NNPC subsidiaries: the Integrated Data Services Limited, IDSL and Frontiers Exploration Services, FES.
Mr. Kachikwu who called the media briefing specifically to commiserate with the families of the affected persons and military personnel, said exploration activities would not resume until the NNPC got the green light from the security operatives about the safety of doing business in the region.
“But if NNPC cannot do its job because of criminality, it portends danger that the economy would grind to a halt. Further activities of the corporation in the Basin will be based on sufficient security in the area,” he said.
“The security agencies, who are experts in the field of surveillance, will take a second look at the terrain before certifying it safe for exploration activities,’ he added.
Exploration activities in the Lake Chad Basin, he said, were undertaken under the protection of about 200 security personnel, including the military personnel and civilian JTF.
He said prior to the exploration activities in the region, the NNPC got assurances of substantial return of security and stability for a minimum of six months.
“There was some level of stability in that area. It wasn’t a misguided venture into the terrain. But, if we take the decision not to do things because of criminality in that area of the Chad and other parts of Nigeria, it means the economy will stop. It means oil in the Niger Delta will stop,” he said.
Mr. Kachikwu said the NNPC’s decision to resume exploration activities in the Inland Sedimentary Trough areas, including the Chad Basin, was pursuant to the aspiration of the present administration to grow the country’s current crude oil reserve base from over 37 billion barrels to 40 billion barrels.
The minister said based on the advice from the military in November last year, after successful campaign and degrading of the insurgency in that zone, the NNPC resumed exploration activities in the area, including Gubia Nugumeri, Munguno, Kukawa, Abdam, Guzamala and Mobar.
The minister also said the 1.8 million barrels per day, mbpd, production ceiling set for Nigeria by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, was yet to take effect.
“Merely hitting a production of 1.8 mbpd was not sufficient for the ceiling to take effect. It has to be a month to month analysis of the situation and assurance that the country has triumphed over what prevented its production before he can report to OPEC that the operating environment is now stable,” he explained.
The minister said this would have to be within the nine months period Nigeria was given the exemption.
In January last year, Nigeria was one of the three countries granted exemption from output cut imposed on members of OPEC. The exemption was extended by nine months, at the end of the initial six months.
But, last week, the exemption was removed after Nigeria recently realized the 1.8 mbpd production benchmark set by the group.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece has been updated with the accurate statement by the minister that oil exploration was being halted.