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Controversy trails sale of Atala Marginal Oil field

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It has never been easy for the people of the Niger Delta. It has been a series and series of battles from one challenge to another. The effect of oil exploration has not been palatable for the people as the environment has been polluted beyond redemption. It is on record that the damage that oil exploration has done to the region cannot be corrected in the next one hundred years.

Some have been surmounted by the Federal Government and the oil companies with the help of the state governments while many are still begging for attention. One of them is how to control the level of devastation caused by oil explorations by these multinational companies.

Most of the communities that host these oil wells are still in sorry situations. They don’t access good drinking water, no good schools, no good hospitals, no electricity, incidentally there is light in the camps of these oil workers while these host communities are in darkness.

These challenges are not synonymous with any particular part of the state. It is everywhere including some communities at the state capital. Of course, the impact of the 13 per cent oil derivation fund has never been felt in the communities that are supposed to have custody of that fund just because they can’t assess.

The government had been in charge of the fund and still to make the Bayelsa State function optimally, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo during his tenure in 2003 issued the Atala Marginal Oil Field to the state when they were asking to control their resources.

That, of course, helped to douse the tension as at the time and it has been owned by the state government being managed by the Bayelsa State Oil Company until recently when the owner of that oil well was revoked and re-awarded to a private company. Now the question in the mouths of everybody is who owns the oil well now since the department of petroleum resources was said to have revoked the ownership of the well and reassigned it to one Halkins. Bayelsa State was said to have lost the oil mining license it was duly awarded to a company registered in 2019. While all this was going on, the operating license of the Atala Marginal Field (OML 46) expired under the watch of the Seriake Dickson administration.

With the license expired, the DPR formally announced on April 6, 2020, the revocation of the Marginal Oilfield License is issued to the Atala Oil Field on the grounds that the BOCL JV had failed to turn the asset around for the nation to derive maximum value from the resources. But the issue now is that the company that took over the oil well when former Governor Dickson was in office, one Halkin Exploration and Production Limited seems not to be in existence when the oil well was being controlled by Bayelsa State Government.

The company Halkin was said to have been incorporated in 2019 with these, Bayelsa Oil Company Limited on July 3, 2021 told the public through a newspaper publication (not New Telegraph newspaper) but issued to New Telegraph re-cently by Bello Akpoku, that the Federal Government didn’t award the Atala Oilfield to new investors. In a statement, the Bayelsa Oil Company Limited (BOCL) and its joint venture partners, notably, Hardy Oil Nigeria Limited and Century Exploration Company Limited described the report as false.

The statement noted that the said publication was false and intended to mislead the public, emphasizing: “The management of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited (BOCL), on behalf of itself and the JV Partners of Atala Marginal Field in OML46, wishes to bring to the notice of the general public and the Ijaw nation in particular, that the information in the publication is patently false, misleading and laced with criminal intent by the sponsors of the publication.” To set the records straight, the statement pointed out that, “the referenced publication was based on a letter written by DPR on the 28th of February, 2021, with Reference Number DPR/1160/A/Vol.11/144 to the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, seeking the Minister’s approval for DPR to assign the Atala Marginal Field (in OML46) to Halkin Exploration and Production Limited (Halkin).”

The statement added that this process had since been challenged and brought to a halt by the Bayelsa State Government through the Management of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited, which wrote protest letters, by itself and on behalf of its Joint Venture Partners, to DPR. The statement continued that, “The misleading publication stated that Halkin in 2019 received the approval of the Board of BOCL to farm-in 41 per cent of the field through a Farm-in Agreement and Field Management Service Agreement with BOCL.

“That claim is not true, and if there is any Board approval from BOCL or execution of a Field Services Agreement, we made bold to say that the same must have been forged and/or contrived with the intent to mislead DPR into awarding the field to Halkin, as no such agreement exists between BOCL and Halkin or at all.”

The Management of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited on September 18, 2021, called on the Governor of the state, Senator Douye Diri to probe the case of fraud, criminal breach of trust, fraudulent misrepresentation, forgery, corruption, obtaining by false pretence and criminal conversion of Atala marginal field (OML 46) by some group of individuals.

A statement signed by Bello Akpoku the acting managing director of Bayelsa Oil Company Limited read that the Atala Oil Field has been plagued by serious uncertainties ever since its revocation by the Federal Ministry of Mineral Resources. The statement noted that some individuals in Bayelsa State were trying to fraudulently convert the state-owned asset to their private asset.

“The Bayelsa Oil Company Limited has on several occasions written to all stakeholders and other principal officers of the state pleading for their intervention on the current circumstances surrounding the Atala field as well as the pathetic situation and challenges faced by the management and staff who have not been paid salaries for two years now.

“As management, despite the concurrent threats to their lives from all corners, they have not relented in challenging every criminal act against the oil field. “We have written letters to the president, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and a written petition to the inspector general of police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other relevant security agencies to correct the false narrative of the individuals and to carry out thorough investigations into the fraudulent and criminal activities of the individuals.” He further noted that the Atala field is capable of generating estimated internal revenue of a minimum of five billion naira monthly as well as employment opportunities for over 2,000 Bayelsans and a potential magnet for mega investors in the oil and gas industry and other sectors.

According to Bello, it would be of utmost benefit to the government and Bayelsans that the governor salvages the asset from being lost to selfish individuals considering the enormous potential the Atala field possesses. Also disturbed by the development, Governor Diri had said the marginal oil field remains a prized asset of the state to which it is sentimentally attached and called on the federal government to reconsider its decision on the matter. A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Alabrah, quoted him as calling on all concerned parties, including the DPR, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, to consider returning the oil field to the state. He noted that the people and government of Bayelsa State were emotionally and sentimentally attached to it, saying it is the only oil asset owned by the state.

The statement read “There has been this issue of the Bayelsa State-owned Atala Oil Field. We kept a studied silent over the matter because we needed to have all the information that led to the revocation of the license on our stateowned asset. “Bayelsans are emotionally and sentimentally attached to that asset as it is the only oil asset we own even though it is a marginal oil field. “It was a surprise and rude shock to us that the license was revoked.

Part of what I have done in the last one week of my absence was to state the position of the Bayelsa State Government, which I did very clearly to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. “So, our position on Atala Oil Field is that it is a prized asset of Bayelsa State and that revocation should be cancelled. Unequivocally, we have said so and we believe that those in authority would see a reason why we are sentimentally and emotionally attached to the Atala Oil Field.

“I call on all who are concerned on the Atala Oil Field, namely DPR, the Petroleum Ministry, NNPC and indeed our own son, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, to do all within their powers to ensure that the Atala Oil Field is returned to Bayelsa State.” Also, the Ijaw Youth Council reiterated the need for the DPR, NNPC and Sylva to consider returning the Atala Oil Marginal Field (OML 46) to Bayelsa State. Its National Spokesman, Ebilade Ekerefe, in a statement said the Federal Government should grant the request of the revocation and reallocation. According to Ebilade, the State Government who is the rightful owner of the Atala Oil Marginal Field (OML 46) should have been granted the right of first refusal before it is revoked and re-awarded. “Why not allow us to have our prized asset and allow us to operate it for the betterment of the State and the Federal Government?” He called on the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources to assist his State of origin to secure back its prize asset for the peace and development of the State and the region.

However, Ebikebuna Augustine Aluzu, Esq had written on his Facebook page on 18 September 2021 that Halkin was registered or incorporated as a company in 2019, according to an incorporation document with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) while the test crude production of Atala Oil Field by BOCL was done sometime in 2017. He asked, after the production of crude oil on Atala Oil Field in 2017, before Halkin was birthed as a company what exactly did Halkin revive in 2019?

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