Fixing crude oil refining business in Nigeria By Chijioke Nwaozuzu




The issue of deregulation of petrol (PMS) price has been a contentious issue for over two decades, as well as the deregulation of the refining business in Nigeria. However, we need to be clear on what the challenges are and how we go about deregulating the entire downstream petroleum sector.


Deregulation and liberalization of this sector mean different things. Lifting price and supply controls and constraints constitute liberalization of the sector, not full deregulation. However, full deregulation of the sector will entail privatization of the government refineries, pipelines, product depots, loading and discharge terminals for crude oil and products, jetties, etc. Privatizing some of these supply and distribution infrastructure may have severe national security implications


Deregulating the price of petrol will not automatically eradicate the shame of fuels importation into Nigeria. The exercise will only generate extra funds for the government which, if care is not taken, will likely be frittered away so long as it is shared by the three tiers of government.
The alternative would be to dedicate the entire revenue to major infrastructure development under a strengthened SURE-P agency with competent management or subordinate the revenue under the Sovereign Wealth Fund for the same purpose.


The next issue will be a forensic analysis of the demand and supply situation with petroleum products in Nigeria, so we can determine the extent of refining capacity needed to bridge the supply gap.
Currently, we have a name-plate refining capacity of 445,000 barrels per day (bpd). As at 2016, the average capacity utilization for all three refineries was about 13.7%, which dropped to 6.1% by the end of September 2017. Hence, the experienced fuel shortages and resulting massive imports!
However, the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr Maikanti Baru has assured that the refineries will achieve an average refining capacity utilization level of at least 90% by the end of 2019. Considering that the newest refinery (the new Port Harcourt refinery) is 30 years old, it is unlikely that such a huge leap could be achieved in such a short time!
According to Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) figures, Nigeria’s daily consumption of fuels as at early 2012 was as follows: 32 ml / day of petrol, 5.2 ml / day of kerosene, and 4.1 ml / day of diesel. The difference between what our refineries produce and these consumption statistics should constitute our daily imports. The unprocessed portion of the 445,000 bpd is supposed to be swapped for petrol by the Pipelines & Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the national oil corporation.


At another end, the Petroleum Products Pricing & Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) used to issue petrol import licenses to selected marketers. What is not certain is how both agencies reconciled the volumes of petrol they each import. It is against this background that the servicing of our existing refineries is welcome news. However, let us not be overly sanguine yet. Here is why!


Government will have to be involved in the construction of the larger-scale refineries, at least at the earlier stages. This is because of the capital intensity of such plants and the need for ensuring investors’ confidence. For instance, the capital outlay for a 100,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery is roughly $2.5 billion, while a 24,000 bpd modular refinery is about $250m (based on a feasibility study I carried out for a firm).


Therefore, it is easier for private firms to access funds for the modular refining units (through for instance, US Ex-IM Bank) than funding the medium-scale to larger-scale refineries. The manufacturing timescale for plant, equipment and machinery for a plant of 100,000 bpd capacity is within the range of 3-4 years. Start-up for modular refineries of 24,000 bpd capacities is within a timeframe of 20-24 months.
The modular system allows the plant to be expanded to 100,000 bpd capacity in structured increments (say five modules of 20kbpd each) should the refiner choose to do so. The increments can be funded with the cash flows from phase one and additional phases, and so the refinery will not incur additional debt for expansion after the first unit is installed. Unlike big capacity refineries, capacity expansion for modular plants can be done without shutting down production from existing modular equipment and plant. Revenue streams and pay-back periods are faster with the modular refining format, than with the larger capacity refineries.


The major short-coming with the modular format is that the plants are semi-automated or fully automated and therefore less labour-intensive, i.e. not many jobs can be created directly. For instance, 20 to 30 personnel can operate a 24,000 bpd modular refinery. Most of the spin-off jobs created are of a secondary nature, and are based around the location of the refinery, e.g. transportation, schools, hospitals, shops, restaurants, etc.
To sum up, modular refineries are simple, efficient and fast to start up. Such refineries usually operate at optimal capacity at all times. The relatively small investment cost allows for private investors to enter the refining business much easier. It also enables government to build the bigger capacity refineries using the modular format, but in incremental stages. However, government- built modular refineries should have full conversion facilities (i.e. catalytic reformers and naphtha hydro-treaters) to enable the refineries produce sufficient petrol.


However, it is unlikely that smaller modular refineries will bring about sufficient refining capacity additions. Perhaps, it may contribute 100,000 bpd at the most, given the paucity of funds. Large-scale Greenfield refineries will still be needed. To achieve this it would seem that the Nigerian government (through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC) has to partner with the Chinese government (through its petroleum agencies- e.g. Chinese National Petroleum Company, CNPC). Why?


In the past 20 years, only three Greenfield refineries have been constructed in Africa. These were built in Adrar (Algeria) and Khartoum (Sudan) with China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) partnering with the governments, with capacities of 13,000 bpd and 100,000 bpd respectively. The third one was built in Alexandria (Egypt) by Egypt General Petroleum Corporation, i.e. Egypt’s National Oil Company (NOC) with a capacity of 100,000 bpd.
Planned new builds in Africa were constructed by PetroChina at Ndjamena (Chad) and Zinder (Niger) with same 20,000 bpd capacity. The third is being constructed by Sonangol, Angola’s NOC at Lobito (Angola) with a capacity of 200,000 bpd. From the foregoing, refining in Africa is led by NOC’s, and new investments are dominated by the Chinese national petroleum companies.
 Prof Nwaozuzu writes from University of Port Harcourt. 

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