Can Cees Win The Bet On Sahara? - Africa’s premier report on the oil, gas and energy landscape.

Can Cees Win The Bet On Sahara?

 “I will take your money”, the Dutch National warns a Nigerian journalist.

Minutes after Cees Uijlenhoed concluded a press conference in which he spoke of Sahara Energy’s plans to commence oil production by July 2011, a reporter walked up to him, held his gaze and challenged him to a bet.

Uijlenhoed, CEO of Sahara Energy Fields, the Nigerian independent, took up the challenge.

“Come back later in the year and I’d take your money”, the Dutch national responded.

At stake was whether Sahara Energy Fields would, indeed, deliver on the promise it was making: to commence, within the year, field development on Oki field, one of the four undeveloped discoveries in the Oil Prospecting Lease(OPL) 274, its 870km2 land acreage in the northwest Niger Delta Basin. Mr Uijlenhoed had admitted, in the course of the conference, that as of the last week of January 2011, there was no rig contract in place for the development, a fact which made the claim of likely oil production by mid year quite a stretch. The Oki structure straddles the NPDC operated Oziengbe south, a producing field which lies on adjacent acreage. This is supposed to be a low hanging fruit. But Sahara has other such opportunities strewn all over the 5,994km2 of onshore and offshore acreage in which it has interests in the Niger Delta basin. One is the Tsekelewu field, another oil pool straddling a producing field, which the company has held for more than five years without either re-entry, nor new drilling. Reasons proffered for the inactivity on Tsekelwu field include the excessive militant activity in the swamp terrain.

Still, Cees Uijlendoed, a former CFO of Shell E&P Africa, is nothing if not but optimistic about Sahara Energy Field’s prospects. He believes there is a significant opportunity for a “credible radically change in the next five years and the domination of IOCs will diminish”.

When someone tried to take advantage of his pedigree and steer him to a discussion about why Shell left Angolan deepwater in the early 2000s, Uijlendoed returned the topic back to Sahara Energy: “Look, that is a big company”, he says of Shell. “Here in Sahara, we are smaller and focused on more specific things”. It is Sahara’s objective to step into the vacuum likely to be left by IOCs, in Nigeria he argues. “But also outside of Nigeria, the concept of a privately owned, ‘fast decision making’, credible E&P company resonates with host Governments because Sahara is focused on its partners, builds the relationship and aligns its interest with host Governments, It is not hindered by global portfolio considerations and rankings, like the IOCs, which make Country X the flavour of the month in one year but fail them the next”.

Sahara Energy Fields Ltd, part of the Sahara Group of Companies, represents the E&P sector for the group and has extensive interests in onshore and offshore blocks in Nigeria and Ghana.

Mr Uijlendoed’s speech was peppered with a rosy account of Sahara Energy’s place in the sun and the value the company was bringing to the table in its joint venture agreement with Azimuth Limited, a private limited company “currently being registered in Bermuda”. A joint statement by the two entities declared that Azimuth had purchased a license to view, under certain terms and conditions, the global multi client data library of Petroleum Geo-Services ASA (PGS), which contains “150,000km2 of 3D seismic data and “21,500km of 2D seismic data across West Africa. Azimuth was drawing on a pool of 85 technical experts, and was well positioned to analyse E&P assets throughout Africa and to develop credible bids for acquiring attractive properties”, the statement added.

Sahara Energy says that it has plans for seismic surveys in its “highly prospective acreage onshore and offshere Nigeria”, to “enhance prospectivity and thereafter seek improved farmout terms for drilling”.

“The agreement formalises a partnership between the two companies throughout West Africa — from Mauritania in the north to Namibia in the South (the Area of Mutual Interest). To leverage the strengths of both partners, Sahara and Azimuth will pool resources and collaborate openly when identifying and acquiring attractive E&P acreage. Where possible, and as appropriate, the partners will seek to utilize PGS’ proprietary technology — such as the industry-leading “GeoStreamer” seismic acquisition system — when developing acquired acreage. In all cases, Sahara will act as Operator on behalf of the partners when such a role is required by the terms of relevant Petroleum Contracts”.

What is key is that Sahara is well known for acquiring acreages. Now is the time to work up their development, because it is in field development work that the real value is added, in the form of job opportunities in communities, building local skills, and providing onsite services that accelerate neighbourhood economic development. When a government like Nigeria’s chooses to award acreage to an indigenous company like Sahara, it is hoping that the company can build the capacity to develop those assets as a truly Nigerian company. It is Nigeria who ultimately wins the bet if Sahara Energy goes through as operator of the Oki field and delivers first oil in good time as a Nigerian company.

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