Atala: Dust over Bayelsa marginal oil field

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Atala: Dust over Bayelsa marginal oil field by : 2:41 am On October 10, 2021

By Omoniyi Salaudeen

There is no end in sight to the controversy trailing the circumstances under which the Bayelsa Oil Company Limited (BOCL) lost its right to manage the Atala Marginal Field (OML 46).  

What makes the case to be of particular interest to the concerned stakeholders in the state is the intriguing interplay of secrecy and conspiracy by those who are supposed to be the custodians of the asset. It is a scenario like dogs eat dogs.    For the record, Atala field was among the oil blocs put up for sale to interested indigenous players in 2003 by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to douse the tension arising from the agitation for resource control in the Niger Delta region spearheaded by the late Diepreye Alamieyesiegha, the then governor of Bayelsa State. While the neighbouring Delta and Akwa Ibom states acquired OML 56 and OML 14 through Mid-western and Stubb Creek respectively, Bayelsa State got Atala field through Bayelsa Oil and Gas Company Limited (BOCL).  

But for no known reason, the field has been treated with reckless abandon by the successive administrations without any demonstrable commitment to developing the capacity for oil exploration and production for the common good of the people. The BOCL itself was literally in limbo until February 28, 2021, when the news filtered in that the Department of Petroleum Resources had re-assigned the oil field to a new company.  And since then, there has been a purported deal of ownership by trick, fueling the agitation for the unmasking of the individuals responsible for the alleged transfer of the oil field.

The re-assignment followed the report of the 2020 marginal field bid round in which the presidency was said to have given approval for the revocation of the Atala field license along with nine others. According to available reports, the Operating License of the Atala Marginal Field (OML 46) had expired under the watchful eyes of the immediate past governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, before the shoddy deal for a change of ownership started.  

Consequently, the Department of Petroleum Resources acting on the directive of the president that the oil fields should be re-awarded on a discretionary basis to qualified companies with consideration given to previous operators subject to the demonstration of technical and financial capacity and payment of applicable Good and Valuable Consideration (GVC), re-assigned Atala to Halkin Exploration and Production Limited.    

In a letter with Ref No: DPR/1160/A/Vol.11/14 dated 28th February, 2020 seeking the approval of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, DPR stated that Halkin had through one of its subsidiary companies, received the approval of the board of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited to farm-in to 41 per cent of the field through execution of farm-in agreement and field management service agreement with BOCL, adding that “the company claimed to have invested over sixty million US dollars (US$60,000,000:00) to revive the assets in the process.”      

It reads in part: “The Department’s assessment of Halkin indicates that the company has the potential to immediately bring the field to production and progress with the full development of the asset, including the drilling of more wells and production/utilization of the field’s resources.

“Consequently, it is our considered opinion that the asset be re-awarded to Halkin Exploration and Production Limited, subject to the payment of calculated GVC within forty-five (45) calendar days in line with Mr President’s approval referenced above.”

Curiously, the Minister who is also a former governor of Bayelsa State, Timpre Sylva, in his response, singled out paragraph six referenced above for approval, prompting the objection of the acting Managing Director of BOCL, Bello Akpoku on the grounds of false claim made by Halkin Exploration and Production Limited.    

In a protest letter addressed to the minister dated June 4, 2021, Akpoku said that the re-assignment of the Atala Oil Field was politically motivated and against the rules of procedure. “We take the view that the re-assignment of the Atala Marginal filed was not only politically motivated, but it fundamentally goes against the provision of the Petroleum Act, as due process was not followed,” he stated.

Beneath the façade is the bar-faced intrigue that occasioned the hasty transfer of the asset to a new owner without due consideration to its capacity to develop the oil field. Without a doubt, something fundamental is amiss in this saga, leaving so many questions unresolved. One, why did the minister give approval to paragraph six of the letter knowing the history of the oil field as a former governor? Is there any verifiable evidence to show that Halkin actually invested over $60 million on the field before claiming the ownership? Into which account of the Federal Government did the company pay the calculated GVC stated in that paragraph in line with the president’s approval before the alleged take over of the oil field? What evidence is there to show that a company that was incorporated in 2019 has the technical and financial capacity to manage the oil field better than BOCL?

Not surprisingly, when Sunday Sun contacted the Spokesperson to the Minister, Mr. Garuba Muhammed, to seek clarification on these issues, he bluntly declined to make comment, saying he had been transferred to another office. With further pressure, he advised that relevant questions be sent to his WhatsApp for onward transmission to the appropriate person in the minister’s office who would respond to them. But all to no avail.     

In the same vein, the Managing Director of Halkin Exploration and Production Limited, Mr. Ebikabowei Dorgu, also burgled the opportunity offered him to clear the air on the matter, as he closed up this reporter with a promise to send the number of his media aide who would respond to the issues raised. But he never did.   

However, MD BOCL, Bello, on his part, lamented the high-level conspiracy orchestrated by some powerful individuals in the state to deprive the people of their commonwealth.   

He said: “This is almost six months I have been on this battle even at the risk of my life and my family. I have had to go into hiding several times because of this issue.

“As I talk to you, the location has been turned into illegal bunkering. They are loading crude oil day and night.

“A group of Bayelsans who are politicians connived with our former MD, my predecessor, to form a company called Halkin Global Investment Limited with the intention to take 41 per cent of Atala Oil Field. At that time, I was the Technical Assistant to the then Managing Director.  In 2019, Bayelsa Oil Company Limited gave them a capital expenditure of $60 million which they must pay in order to acquire that 41 per cent. In addition, they were also asked to pay a signature bonus of $3 million to the Bayelsa State government. The aim was to use $40 million to pay off the existing partners. But they could not raise the money. Instead, what they did was to change the name of the company from Halkin Global Investment to Halkin Exploration and Production Limited, forged all audited reports that were done by KMG and others, surreptitiously included the name in the reports, and submitted to the DPR. In the submitted reports, they deceived the DPR to believe that Bayelsa State government through Bayelsa Oil Company Limited owed them $60 million which they had spent to develop the field and therefore sought to take over the management of the oil field.

“They claimed to have invested $60 million on that field, but we stopped operation in 2017, whereas, the company was incorporated in 2019. 

“Instead of the minister approving the bidding process to see if they have the technical and financial capacity to manage the field, he went ahead and approved paragraph six which was supposed to be the last stage of the bidding process.

“By implication, fulfillment of paragraph six of that letter is as good as fulfilling the obligations for the bidding qualification to become the automatic operator of that field 100 per cent.

 “This could be that the minister himself was an interested party in the deal or he wanted to raise money for the Federal Government.” 

He further explained that all efforts made to persuade the minister to maintain the status quo proved abortive. “I have written three letters to the Honourable Minister, with all supporting letters to show that this is a scam, but none has been replied. The question we need to ask the minister is into which account was the GVC ($8 million) stipulated in paragraph six paid,” he queried.

As the controversy rages, people are already at a loss as to the actual disposition of the state government to the matter. 

But a top government official, who pleaded anonymity, speaking with Sunday Sun in a telephone interview, stated that Atala oil field remained a prized asset of Bayelsa people. 

He said: “Atala remains our prized asset. We are emotionally and sentimentally attached to it.  Atala remains the property of Bayelsa State government as far as we are concerned. This is the position of the governor. We believe that the process of revocation and re-awarding of that oil field was not fair to us because we were even supposed to be given the right of first refusal when they were re-awarding it.

“The governor has written to the president and presented all the documents and information required. And the president had directed that there should be a pause on the process. We are waiting for those making claims in the media that Atala belongs to them. The company that is claiming to owe the field and made an investment in it in 2016 was incorporated in 2019. These are issues that are not clear and the Federal Government has not given us any explanation. It is even worse that we have our own son, a Bayelsan, as a minister in charge superintending over this kind of situation.

“We are waiting to hear the response of Mr. President who is the Minister of Petroleum to know whether we will go to court or not. We don’t want to pre-empt the decision of the Federal Government. So, let’s wait.”

The post Atala: Dust over Bayelsa marginal oil field appeared first on The Sun Nigeria.

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