By Dr Aminu Abdullahi Isyaku
Exploration for oil and gas at the onset is almost entirely a field-based adventure, as such, geological methods play leading roles in the processes leading to discoveries of hydrocarbon deposits in deep-seated subsurface habitats.
Currently, advanced geoscience technologies have revolutionized the exploration process that can help us delineate potential reserves with greatly improved accuracy. This would result in fewer exploration wells, and ultimately lowered exploration investment costs.
Several universities worldwide have been at the forefront of developing new geoscientific methods to improve the exploration process from preliminary research stages to the development of the oil and gas reserves.
Nigerian Premier Universities, including Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, have played hosts to several legacy geological research for hydrocarbons as well as mineral resources in Nigeria.
However, in Nigeria’s petroleum industry, research funding has since been redirected away from the universities by the oil companies that instead have developed their company-based research and exploration teams.
In spite of the present global energy transition, the demand for oil and gas particularly in the developing world will remain relevant in the energy mix.
Even in the face of rising alternative sources of energy from renewables to improved battery-saving technologies that are considered climate-friendly, hydrocarbons will still retain a large chunk of its energy market shares as the world’s most developed energy industry.
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Accordingly, recent Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) records show that Nigeria has almost 40 billion barrels of proven oil reserves.
As such, petroleum has dominated the extractive sector in Nigeria, and the country holds 29% of Africa’s proven oil reserves becoming Africa’s largest producer of oil and the 13th largest oil-producing country in the world.
Until recently, with the commercial discovery of hydrocarbons in the Upper Benue Trough’s Gongola sub-basin, almost all oil and gas investments in Nigeria are restricted to the Niger Delta.
In Nigeria, after the discovery of commercial oil quantities in 1956 by Shell D’Arcy in the Oloibiri area of the Niger Delta, commercial production of oil started in 1958 with hundreds of thousand tonnes of oil exported by 1960.
Since then, oil and gas commercial activities continued to consolidate with new entries of several multinational players into the Niger Delta.
Exploration licenses and Production Sharing Contracts (PSC) were signed by the Federal Government’s Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) with the oil multinationals, including the big global oil players such as Elf Aquitaine, Mobil, Agip, and Chevron.
The Niger Delta, however, remains Nigeria’s main hub for all oil and gas investments, with Nigeria’s oil and gas sector representing about 65% of government revenues.
According to the economic report released by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2019, total oil revenue rose by 129 percent to N9.4 trillion in 2018 from N4.1 trillion in 2017. So there is no doubt that oil and gas is the economic mainstay for Nigeria.
In the last decade, as the world, a growing population needs more energy consumption for development, and countries are looking to harness their resource potentials including in frontier areas, the industry has graciously returned back to the Academia for partnership in solving the increasingly difficult challenges facing modern hydrocarbon exploration.
The petroleum industry seems to be more determined now to work closely with geoscience departments situated within the inland basins to partner in both training and developing the geological database on these basins.
The Department of Geology at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria had carried out pioneering geological field explorations for oil and gas potentials in the inland basins since 1973, being the oldest Department of Geology in the northern region.
As such, a lot of the results from the research efforts in the frontier basins are available in the department.
With two existing Professorial Chairs in the Faculty of Engineering funded by Shell Petroleum and the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) in the University, ABU Zaria can provide comprehensive geoscience and engineering solutions to meet the demands for the petroleum industry’s specific research and training, being at the centre of the geographical locations of the inland basins currently under exploration.
In 2017, the ABU reasserted itself and showcased its research capabilities as both a legacy and leading player in the research and training for the next generation of hydrocarbon explorers in Nigeria to the NNPC.
As a University, we proposed to the NNPC and the then GMD NNPC (now late) Dr Maikanti Baru agreed for the NNPC to partner in research and exploration and graciously approved a world-class Centre for Inland Basin Research and Exploration and its permanent site is now well under construction at its ABU Phase 2 site funded by the NNPC.
In the 2009 – 2011 NNPC’s Inland Basin Petroleum Prospectivity Evaluation Project, my experience as a Personal Assistant and Resource Person to the Chief Consultant for the NNPC, Emeritus Professor Deborah E. Ajakaiye, (a former Dean of Science in ABU and a pioneer researcher in the inland basins of Nigeria), has given me an insight into the success that the industry can achieve working with academic researchers.
There is thus the need to utilize the capacity of local University researchers who would be able to partner the oil company in the exploration of hydrocarbon in the region. This opportunity was hitherto reinforced in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Local Content Law.
Similarly, the 2019 accent by President Buhari to the amendments to the provisions of Section 16 of the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act, Cap D3, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 would guarantee more revenue to Nigeria from the inland basins’ hydrocarbon assets.
It is therefore important that this University continues to modernize its administrative and outreach systems to develop new curricula in collaboration with the industry and to develop new progressive teaching and training styles to meet the requirement of the industry.
The new Research Centre provides a professional training opportunity for the University to partner and offers solutions that are fit for purpose having had a long history of teaching and research in exploration geosciences.
Dr Aminu Abdullahi Isyaku is the Geology Departmental Sub-Committee Chairman (Centre Activities and Implementation Planning) for the new NNPC Centre for Inland Basin Research and Exploration at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.