Ibigwe: An Industrial Park Grows on the Back of a Marginal Field

When the Nigerian independent Waltersmith Petroman, concludes a well it is currently drilling on the Ibigwe field in the east of the country, it will deliver the entire daily production from the new probe into its refinery in the vicinity of the field.

The company runs a 5,000Barrels of Oil Per Day (BOPD) modular refinery.

It is the only company, which processes its entire upstream output in a local facility, which is itself the first phase of a much bigger complex.

The Waltersmith Refinery complex started life in a grand style with a commissioning witnessed by over 300 oil and gas executives, most of them airlifted from Lagos and Abuja for the event, and a speaker line-up that included President Muhammadu Buhari, who directly addressed the gathering virtually from the State House, witnessed the commissioning.

Sitting in that glittering gathering, almost a year ago, cramped for space in a vast canopy, you could be forgiven for assuming that the country was launching the grand project itself: the 650,000BOPD Dangote Refinery, under construction for the past six years.

But this modest hydrocarbon processing project is part of an ambitious journey that began as a marginal oil field, estimated at no more than 20Million Barrels of crude in recoverable reserves.

The destination is an Industrial and Innovation Park, with a 50,000BOPD refinery complex and a 3,000MW gas-fired power plant as the centrepieces of a hub that will provide energy to 118, 000 households and 27, 000 commercial and industrial users.

The park is designed to be spread over 100 hectares of land initially, of which 65 hectares of land has been acquired. The Power Plant will supply power to nearby industries or industries which come to locate themselves in the hub. Waltersmith was awarded electricity generation license by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) in 2017.

The 5,000BOPD plant, with planned optimum output of about 271Million litres of refined petroleum products (Diesel, Kerosene, Heavy Fuel Oil-HFO and Naphtha) per annum, is thus the first of a three phase complex comprising a 20,000Barrel per day condensate refinery and a 25,000 crude oil refinery, planned for completion by 2022.

To fund this starter project, Waltersmith Petroman formed a Joint venture (JV) with the Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board, a Government parastatal which holds 30% to its 70%. The JV, named Waltersmith Refining and Petrochemical Company, got funding support from the African Finance Corporation (AFC), a pan-African Multilateral Development Financial Institution.

Even if the project is halted at this first phase, it is already an exception in the country.

As a rule, private Nigerian owned E&P companies do not aspire to be integrated entities.

Waltersmith is only the second company, out of over 20 Nigerian independent crude oil producers, to get into the business of running a refinery. It is instructive that the first: Niger Delta Petroleum Resources, also built its refinery on the back of a marginal oil field.

Established in 1996, Waltersmith Petroman acquired the Ibigwe Marginal Field (OML-16) license in 2004 and delivered first oil in 2008. It grew production to over 7,000BOPD, built a 15,000 BOPD Flowstation at Ibigwe to process crude from the Ibigwe Field and the neighbouring NNPC/ SEPLAT JV Ohaji South Field in OML-53. Anticipating additional growth in production from the vicinity, Waltersmith is expanding this facility to handle 20,000BOPD by the end of 2020.

Two intractable challenges that confront small producers like Waltersmith in delivering crude oil to the market are the incessant vandalism of export pipelines and high charges paid to both pipeline and terminal facility owners. At one point for Waltersmith was losing between 25% and 30% of the output before the crude got to the terminal. Then again, the company was paying as much as $8 per barrel on pipeline and terminalling charges.

The idea for the refinery came primarily from thinking to mitigate production losses. But gradually, what started as a route out of economic challenges started taking the shape of a higher calling.

“WE HAD BEEN PRODUCING OIL NOW FOR OVER A DECADE and of course, we had our own unique locational challenges but I then asked the question, is this it for our nation?”, wondered Abdulrazaq Isa, Waltersmith’s Chairman and co-founder. “Producing and exporting oil? Is this it for us, is there a way we can do something better?”

The company decided it was going to start small and build a modest modular refinery,“but side by side, we started asking the question, what can we do with the gas that we are producing, from which we had been generating about 1.2MW of electricity for ourselves on our site? I started asking why can’t I provide electricity for some other people?”

Razaq said that, as the refinery project started taking shape, “the next wave of thinking in our company was how to create an industrial infrastructure where we then begin to provide other services to other people. We can acquire a significant amount of land within our area: we are building a refinery, we are providing electricity for ourselves, we are providing water for ourselves, we are providing security for ourselves so why can’t we scale that up and do that with other people? Why don’t we create the same enabling environment within our area for those of us who are operating within that area and provide these same services to them?

That way, we can create jobs for people, people can co-locate factories and industries where we are and that way, we can impact the economy directly and begin to create an industrial base for the production of other things. That was the kind of thing that we are beginning to think about but that is in addition to expanding our refining capacity and our upstream business will of course continue to grow because we will continue to look for assets. We see our upstream business as an enabler for doing things. We in this business, must look at other sectors of the economy and continue to intervene in them because we earn significant resources from the E&P segment of our business”.

By 2018, Final Investment Decision (FID) had been taken and in October 2018 the groundbreaking ceremony was done, effectively kicking off the construction phase in November 2018.

FEED STOCK FOR THE EXPANSION

The 5,000BOPD refinery utilises own operated crude as feedstock, but negotiations are ongoing with both SEPLAT and NNPC on Crude Sales and Purchase agreements for the over 7,000BOPD NNPC/SEPLAT OML-53 JVO haji South production processed at Waltersmith’s Ibigwe Flow station. There is also ongoing conversations, for some commercial arrangement with other parties who either hold positions in, or operate, fields sited within 30-km of the Ibigwe Marginal Field.

Front End Engineering Design (FEED) for the 25,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD) Phase 2 Condensate Refinery was completed in Q1 2020, with feasibility study concluded in Q2 2020 and the EPCIC Contracting process has been initiated with Final Investment Decision planned for Q4 2020 and the delivery expected by Q4 2022.

Phase 2 will output about 1.4Billion litres per year of refined petroleum products (Premium Motor Spirit – PMS, Diesel, Kerosene, Aviation Jet Fuel and HFO) when completed, in addition to the 271Million litres from the Phase 1. “The combined products expected at full capacity, from the three phases, is about 2.7BIllion litres of products per annum. “This represents 10% of the total refined products consumption in Nigeria”, Isa said. The groundbreaking ceremony for 2nd and 3rd  Phases of the refinery complex was done in conjunction with the commissioning of the 5,000BOPD Phase 1 Refinery last November.

THE LINEUP OF SPEAKERS AT THE commissioning ceremony comprised, largely the CEOs of the companies expected to provide condensate and crude oil feedstocks for the next two phases.

One of the first speakers was Roger Brown, CEO of Seplat, operator of OML 53, the condensate rich asset on which the 300MMscf/d ANOH gas project, promoted also by Seplat, was being constructed. “This plant means that crude oil from this area will be refined in this area and sold to people from this area”, Brown gushed. “And this is what the future is got to be. It’s got be utilized within our areas and states. I’m delighted to say the crude stock from our OML 53 production will be refined here and sold in Imo State”.

Waltersmith also has eyes on crude oil from Egbema field (operated by NPDC, an NNPC subsidiary) and Egbema West (held by Shell Petroleum in JV with NNPC). The assets, “located in nearby OML 20, are excellent sources of crude oil feedstock for our refinery”, Isa told the gathering.

Chike Nwosu, CEO, Waltersmith

This is what Osa Okunbor, Chair of Shell Companies in Nigeria, referenced when he spoke. “This project sits very, very close to several of our land assets and there’s a lot of room for collaboration to ensure that the required feedstock is obtained”, Okunbor said.

“I want to reaffirm this commitment working with our partners in the SPDC JV in particular, the GMD of NNPC to see how we can fulfill this commitment we made to support this project with the required feedstock.”

One sticky point in Waltersmith’s negotiations for feedstock from these nearby fields, sited within 30-km of the Ibigwe Marginal Field, is NNPC’s own development plans.

The state owned firm’s decision to site a condensate refinery, right in the Assa North- Ohaji South (ANOH) field area, had been as ore headache in the planning for Waltersmith’s 2nd Phase Condensate Refinery.

Waltersmith had been in discussion with Seplat Petroleum, to have the latter inject the condensate from its ANOH field gas project to the refinery. But NNPC too, as Seplat’s partner on the asset, is angling for a condensate refinery in the vicinity. NNPC wants to construct four condensate refineries of 30,000BPD capacity each, and site one of them in the ANOH area. Its primary feedstock is the same gas condensate from ANOH that Waltersmith is seeking to take from Seplat.

Waltersmith has been negotiating with NNPC to either merge its plans into the Ibigwe Phase 2 Refinery, or for the two of them to find some other middle ground. This is why Waltersmith’s press releases and its several public statements in the past year have repeatedly contained the line: “Critical to the success of these projects is the Federal Government’s support, through NNPC, to conclude on advanced discussions to grant Waltersmith access to nearby Condensate feedstock in Assa North / Ohaji”.

Of critical importance, then, was the speech of Mele Kolo Kyari, the NNPC’s Group Managing Director, at the commissioning.

“We have engaged Waltersmith severally and we have assured them that between us and our partners, we will make feedstock available to this refinery” Kyari declared. “ NNPC will continue to collaborate with other investors to establish more refineries”.

THE HUB, THE COMMUNITY

As putative feedstock providers were providing verbal guarantees of crude condensate and gas supply for the refinery, the basic blocks of the larger industrial park were also being assembled.

Isa, the Chairman of WalterSmith Group, announced the “ground breaking of the development of our Industrial and Innovation Park with the flagging of the Technical Support Agreement with United Nations Industrial Development

Organisation (UNIDO) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)”.

Chike Nwosu, Waltersmith’s Chief Executive Officer, said that once the company “can provide the basic needs of manufacturers which is around energy, we expect them to be attracted to these areas and we expect that to begin to create commercial hub around the Ibigwe area where the inherent entrepreneurship of the people of that area will be given the juices for them to grow and so, you will see small and medium enterprises growing along with the larger industrial manufacturers”.

Nwosu has heard so much talk about companies’ ability to pay for the industrial park services, especially provision of power.

He has a response: “Waltersmith has a paradigm shift”, he explained. “The ability to pay conversion is about delivering power, you don’t deliver power because the end users don’t have the ability to pay. Why don’t you create that ability to pay through a couple of steps? The first step is creating the environment for customers who can pay which is the industrial complex.

“There is need to create an industrial complex where manufacturing companies who can pay for the energy because it is cheaper for them and who you can provide with access to ports.

For instance, Port Harcourt is near us, Onitsha is near us including the Port Harcourt airport and other airports within our jurisdiction.

There are exit routes to export anything that you want to do. This should be created for the manufacturers, bring them because they have the ability to pay”.


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2 comments

  1. Roya Simon says:

    Excellent project. A great contribution to National Development. We’ll done Waltersmith

    • Kunle Bakare says:

      A project that considers the full cycle from crude to industrialization is a perfect one. The way to go for Nigeria’s development.
      Kudos to Waltersmith Group. Proudly Nigerian

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