Atala oil field: Comply with presidential directive, Senate panel tells NUPRC 

Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, has directed  the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), to  restore the Atala Marginal Oil field (OML 46) to its former operators  in line with presidential directive to that effect.

The committee’s admonition came 24 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari ordered NUPRC to return the oil field (OML 46) to original owners from Halkin Exploration and Production Company Limited (Halkin E&P).

President Buhari gave the directive on Wednesday at the State House when Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State and other stakeholders from the state paid him courtesy visit.

The Oil field, which was originally owned by the trio of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited (BOCL), Hardy Oil Nigeria Limited (HONL) and Century Exploration and Production Limited, was erroneously reallocated to Halkin Exploration and Production Company Limited (Halkin E&P), through a letter dated 7th July, 2021 by the then regulatory agency, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), over alleged inability to bring the Atala Field to production.

But President Muhammadu Buhari, in October 2020, in response to the appeal by the Marginal Field Operators Group (MFOG), directed the immediate “reinstatement of the ten revoked Marginal Fields licences, on a discretionary basis, to qualified companies with consideration given to the previous operators of the respective fields, subject to the demonstration of technical/financial capacity and payment of applicable Good and Valuable Consideration (GVC).” 

Despite the President’s Order, the DPR, (now NUPRC), reallocated the Atala Oil field to Halkin Exploration and Production Limited which was not among the previous operators, while it returned the other nine to original owners.

Irked by the flagrant disobedience to the President’s Order, one of the original owners, Hardy Oil Nigeria Limited, through a petition signed by Sir Daniel Chukwudozie, urged the Nigerian Senate to intervene, by prevailing on the regulatory agency to comply with Buhari’s Order.

The Executive Commissioner, Economic Relation and Strategies of NUPRC, Dr. Kelechi Ofoegbu, had in his appearance before the Senate Committee on Friday last week, made spirited attempts to justice action of the agency on re – allocation of the oil field to Halkin based on alleged instruction to that effect by President Buhari.

He was subsequently asked to appear before the Committee on Thursday, to show written evidence of how President Buhari, who also doubles as Minister of Petroleum, instructed that the Atala Oil field should be reallocated to Halkin.

But neither the NUPRC nor the Halkin Exploration and Production Company Limited showed up at the resumed hearing on Thursday, while Barrister Ike Onwuchuluba made appearance on behalf of the petitioner, Hardy Oil Nigeria Limited.

Consequently, the Chairman of the committee, Senator Ayo Akinyelure (PDP Ondo Central) with consent of other members, directed that NUPRC must return the oil field to original operators.

“We have invited them severally and again, they have not been able to come before Nigerians and prove that the allocation of Atala Oil to Halkin is justified before the law and before humans.

“The position of this particular committee in the last sitting was that, we want the NUPRC to provide evidence before this committee today, to inform our decision on whether to support the position of NUPRC or not.

“The Nigerian Senate has asked the NUPRC to provide a written evidence that Mr. President reversed his own order. It has not been heard anywhere allover the world that, when Mr. President gives a presidential Order, a civil servant would go ahead and reverse it without a written permission from Mr. President.

“So, we are not convinced by the report of the NUPRC and we make bold to say the NUPRC has been misinformed, to allocate Atala Oil to a private limited liability company, when Mr. President had given a presidential Order that they should give considerations to former owners of ten Oil fields. Out of these ten, nine were considered, but the one of Atala is being taken away from the owners.

“Today we are here, but we can’t see NUPRC, we can’t even see the MD of Halkin Oil to show us the President’s Order that reversed his earlier Order. 

“This committee therefore, resolved as follows: that the revocation and allocation of Atala Oil is hereby declared void; that the Atala Oil should be returned to its original owners, in line with the Presidential Order; that the NUPRC should carry out the Presidential Order immediately,” he said.

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