By Adewole Kehinde
It is no longer news that the Federal Executive Council on Wednesday, 17th March, 2021 approved the sum of $1.5 billion for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt Refinery Company Ltd.
Unfortunately, some personalities like Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Gov Nyesom Wike, Activist Aisha Yesufu, Senator Dino Melaye, and Former Gov Peter Obi among others are opposing the rehabilitation/contract award.
Below are the nine reasons why refineries’ rehabilitation is justified
AFTER YEARS OF NEGLECT, THE PLANTS NEED TO BE BACK
Nigeria’s three refineries in Warri, Kaduna and Port Harcourt with a combined capacity of 445,000b/d capacity were established to ensure energy security for the country.
Unfortunately, these refineries have suffered years of neglect due to delays in conducting mandatory Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) that has resulted in performance decline over the past two decades and they have all been shut down to allow proper diagnosis and rehabilitation.
Of these refineries, the most strategic is the Port-Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC) with a capacity of 210,000 b/d and can produce 10.4 million liters of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) per day. This refinery had its last TAM in the year 2000 (21 years ago).
It is gladdening therefore to see that there is finally a move on the part of government to rehabilitate the Port Harcourt refinery and restore all the numerous advantages that operating the refinery will bring to the Country.
This rehabilitation, unlike TAM (which should normally be carried out every two years but was neglected for many years), will involve comprehensive repairs of the plant with significant replacement of critical equipment to ensure the plant integrity is maintained for a minimum of ten years.
REHABILITATION VS BUILDING NEW REFINERIES: WHAT ECONOMICS?
Some critics have said that it is more economical to build a new refinery than “just waste US$1.5bn” to rehabilitate the PHRC, which holds 210,000bpd out of Nigeria’s 445,000bpd refining capacity. On the contrary, a cursory look at brand new refineries built across the world will reveal the following:
US$10bn was budgeted for building Aramco Oil Refinery (250,000-300,000 bpd) in Pakistan
US$12bn was budgeted for building Abrue Lima Project (230,000) in Brazil
US$27bn was budgeted for building Pengerang Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development, RAPID (300,000 b/d + 3 mtpa) naptha steam cracker) in Indonesia.
Closer home, US$19bn was budgeted for building Dangote Refinery (650,000bpd) in Nigeria.
THE LENDER IS SMART, THE CONTRACTOR REPUTABLE
African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) is the reliable lender that has agreed to raise up to $1billion towards the rehabilitation project. In the same vein, Government will raise the sum of US$550m. A credible and capable lender like Afreximbank would never agree to put such huge amount of money where there will be no value.
Similarly, Tecnimont SpA, representative of the Original Refinery Builder (ORB) which is one of the top ten global Engineering, Procurement, Construction, Installation and Commissioning (EPCIC) Contractor in refineries, is globally reputable and capable, with requisite experience of similar jobs across the globe.
STRATEGIC ASSETS ARE NEVER FOR SALE
Despite the abundance of hydrocarbon resources, Nigeria is, sadly, the only oil gas producer in the world that does not refine petroleum products. Instead, the country relies heavily on importation for most of its PMS needs locally. This is not a good record to be proud of.
Armchair critics also come up with a shallow argument that it is better to sell off these refineries since they can no longer meet up the nation’s refining needs. Which country sells off its strategic national assets, such as the refineries, to the highest bidder? Who sells off their refinery when even countries who don’t produce a drop of hydrocarbon still go ahead and build refineries?
THE END OF ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’
Armchair critics usually think a mere mention of rehabilitation means another round of “business as usual”, where resources are drained with nothing to show for it at the end of the day. While some of these arguments are justifiable, it is instructive to note that this rehabilitation is different because interested parties who benefit from the age-long importation largesse (and who fleece the nation dry) will potentially be out of business by the time the rehabilitation is completed.
This is the same for critics who see nothing good in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. These detractors probably forgot that this was an administration which, from its inception, made clear its intention to bring back the refineries to their optimal capacities. The Buhari Presidency also threw its full weight and support behind the NNPC and gave the Corporation a free hand to execute the project without any interference in the contracting processes.
THE BENEFITS ARE ENORMOUS…AND ENDLESS
There are quite a number of benefits in bringing the nation’s refineries back on stream. From satisfying local energy demand, growing the nation’s GDP, to strengthening the Naira by reducing the demand for Forex to creating thousands of jobs across the value chain (crude supply, operating and maintaining the refinery, product supply etc) including several third-party contractors that will supply outsourced services or goods, the advantages are huge.
The refined products also serve as feedstock for small scale local manufacturing. The most significant and visible benefit is energy security for the country. Imagine if COVID-19 lockdown became global and Nigeria couldn’t import, it would have been a disaster as there was no capacity to refine crude in-country and as such, there would have been no products at all. That will be a true definition of disaster!
IT’S OPERATE & MAINTAIN (O&M) MODEL
Having learnt from the experiences of previous models, NNPC is now adopting the Operate & Maintain (O&M) Model as a strategy in the execution of the rehabilitation project, which is also one of the key lender requirements.
With the O&M Strategy, the Contractor is expected to:
• Be a single point of responsibility for managing operations, maintenance and technical services within the refinery’s battery limit
• Be a credible, proven refinery operator with preferably FCC experience
• Operate and maintain the refinery efficiently to generate sufficient margins to pay back the debt
• Be Able to manage local and specialized sub-contractors
• Retain current NNPC staff, and actively support employee development to prepare for the transfer of the refinery management back to NNPC (timeline to be defined)
• NNPC will retain 100% of refinery ownership (e.g. no JV structure etc.)
• NNPC does not expect significant capital projects (e.g. upgrades, de-bottlenecking etc) during the O&M contract phase.
• NNPC’s structure and mandates outside of the refinery’s battery limits will not be impacted by the O&M strategy (e.g. PPMC).
THE CURIOUS CASE OF SHELL’S MARTINEZ REFINERY ‘SALE’
It is strange to hear people come up with the curious case of Shell’s sale of its Martinez Refinery in California to PBF Holding for $1.2bn “while NNPC is only rehabilitating PHRC for $1.5bn.”
Perhaps, what people failed to understand is that Martinez Refinery is 105years old (built in 1916). The refinery had a major fire incident in September 1989 and it is having regulatory challenge with the Californian authorities. The relatively high cost of doing business in California, coupled with challenges with adherence to the State’s environmental regulations were factors in Shell’s decision to sell (https://www.ktvu.com/news/aft
Also, as part of the condition of the sale agreement, Shell and PBF previously entered into a market-based crude oil supply and product off-take agreements to continue supplying Shell-branded businesses and ensuring that Shell customers continue having access to Shell-branded fields.
In a nutshell therefore, what happened between Shell and PBF was just a Management agreement packaged as a sale to manage and protect Shell’s image, hence, it can never be a fair comparison with the cost of rehabilitating an NNPC refinery or even building a new one. Putting up such argument as a defence looks like a well-choreographed attempt by groups who feel that the refineries coming on stream will not only throw them out of business, but will also threaten their long-term interests.
FINALLY, AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT APPROACH THIS TIME AROUND
Unlike what is obtained in the past, the current refineries rehabilitation project is different for the following reasons:
a. It consists of a governance structure that includes key independent external stakeholders: Ministry of Finance, NEITI, ICRC, PENGASSAN and NUPENG.
b. Unlike the regular TAM, this rehabilitation will involve comprehensive repairs of the plant with significant replacement of critical equipment to ensure that the plant’s integrity is maintained for a minimum of ten years.
c. It is funded through part-loan and part-government, with the financiers actively monitoring the execution of the project.
d. KBR and NETCO are acting as NNPC Engineers who will be supervising the EPC contract to ensure that the project is delivered on schedule, within budget and at the right quality.
Adewole Kehinde is the publisher of Swift Reporters and can be reached via 08166240846, 08123608662