Nigeria Doubles Down On Oil After Years Of Trouble

After months of stalling because of Covid restrictions and OPEC cuts, as well as significant international criticism over misplaced funds, Nigeria appears to be optimistic about the future of its faltering oil industry in a time when few others are.

The Nigerian government announced this week that it expects the country to produce 1.88 million barrels per day of crude oil in 2022, assuming a benchmark price of $57 per barrel. In the 2022-2024 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), just approved by the senate, the government also predicted GDP growth of 4.2 percent and inflation of 13 percent in 2022. Inflation in Nigeria decreased to 17.01 percent in August, in a country that has continued to struggle with a double-digit inflation rate since 2016.

This is a highly optimistic plan seeing as Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, was hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, from which it is still recovering.

The Nigerian economy contracted 1.92 per cent in 2020 after a growth of 2.92 percent in 2019. However, the contraction was lower than the World bank estimate of a 4 percent contraction or the IMF estimate of 3.2 percent.

The hopeful budget approval follows President Muhammadu Buhari’s signing of the Petroleum Industry Bill into law in August.

This comes after two long decades of delays in approving the PIB, at a time when much of the rest of the world is moving away from fossil fuel strategies towards green policies with a focus on renewable energy. Plans to stop the sale of diesel and petroleum vehicles as well as targets for net zero-carbon emissions by 2050, across Europe and North America, make the new Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) appear somewhat outdated. However, advocates for the Bill believe that the African continent will continue to rely on oil production for fuel well into the next decade.

The President stated in August at the inauguration of the Steering Committee and PIA Implementation Group that Nigeria may have lost as much as $50 billion worth of investment because of years of delays in enacting the PIA, as investors were uncertain of Nigeria’s oil and gas outlook.

There has been significant criticism over Nigeria’s failure to establish a better regulatory environment for its oil and gas industry until now, which would have increased investor interest in the region. This is particularly pertinent at a time when other African states are beginning to develop their oil industries, and further competition comes from new emerging markets such as Guyana and Suriname.

Critics also point towards the $14 billion in funds provided to develop the Niger Delta region, the heart of the Nigerian oil industry, that was ill spent between 2001 and 2019. The funds were expected to support projects to “offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region and to facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful.”

The inability to establish an adequate regulatory environment for foreign oil and gas investors for so long, as well as government’s failure to use funds to develop its oil-rich Delta Niger region, have put the country at the bottom of the list for many investors now attracted to up-and-coming oil regions without such a difficult past in the sector.

Not to forget, Nigeria is not out of the woods, still battling with reduced OPEC+ oil quotas and the lack of investment that came alongside them.

Angola, Nigeria and Kazakhstan have failed to increase their oil production in line with the OPEC+ easing of cuts this August, primarily due to years of underinvestment in the oil-rich nations’ energy industries.

In addition, concerns around Covid-19 restrictions continue to plague Nigeria’s oil industry, as the Delta region faces yet another lockdown if cases continue to rise. The challenges of 2020 could be seen all over again should Rivers State go into lockdown, with oil firms facing difficulties in transporting personnel to and from oil fields, as well as restrictions affecting pipeline and facilities maintenance, as was the case last year.

But the Nigerian government and those left in Nigeria’s oil industry are hopeful that ongoing demand from the African continent and increasing demand from Asia for oil and gas could help boost the country’s appeal following the enactment of the PIA. With 37 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, ranking 10th in the world, Nigeria has always had significant potential to become oil superstar but has until now lacked the regulatory framework to make this dream a reality until now.

So, the question is whether the “landmark” PIA will really be as ground-breaking for Nigeria’s oil industry as once hoped. The Nigerian government holds out hope for the new Act attracting greater foreign investment in the oil-rich nation, but time is yet to tell whether oil majors are willing to take a gamble on the African state so late in the game.

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