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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Petroleum Director General Raises Hope of Oil Find!

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In this first part of the interview below, the Director General of Petroleum Unit Sierra Leone, Timothy Musa Kabba informs AYV that apart from the myths surrounding the mining industry at home and abroad, the reality is far from the myths, adding that Sierra Leone has huge potential for oil and gas but that the nation will simply have to exercise patience for the drilling process to commence after licenses have been issued to a number of companies to engage in drilling explorations. Excerpts:

Prince C. Kamara: Who is Timothy Musa Kabba?

Timothy Kabba:Timothy Musa Kabba is my name. I am a Sierra Leonean and a petroleum engineer by profession. I have worked in the petroleum industry for several years. I am currently the Director General for the Sierra Leone Petroleum Directorate.

Prince C. Kamara: Since you assumed office, what can you say about your successes so far before we come to the challenges?

Timothy Kabba: It is a mixture of enormous challenges and successes. We have been able to circumvent some of those challenges. It has not been a very smooth ride. We inherited an institution that came across as badly reputed for several reasons. But we have been able to sort of midwife the reputation of the institution, both locally and internationally; which culminated into what we call a meaningful and successful licensing round. This is perhaps the most stressful time in the oil gas industry throughout my experience over the years and it is sad the way the industry has deteriorated in terms of price and demand. The oil and gas market has not experienced this case for the past two to three decades. But amidst these difficulties we were able to do a licensing round that was widely simple but pragmatic and progressive. We received six applications and we evaluated these applications. We encouraged a very transparent and open process. We invited media outlets like the AYV and other TV stations and the print media; and civil society organizations. We constituted an evaluation committee that also drew experts from stakeholder institutions such as the ministries of Finance, and Justice and the Attorney General’s Office. We had a high level of representation from the Local Content Agency and we also had expert representatives from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) who evaluated the six bids that we received and at the end of the day, His Excellency, the President was presented with the report from that evaluation process and His Excellency the President being by law the Minister of Oil and Gas, sanctioned the issuance of provisional licenses to exploration companies who passed the generic threshold of fifty percent outcome from the evaluation. So our successes have pretty much been out there. The challenges are there. The oil sector is quite competitive. But the Presidency, the Ministry of Finance and other agencies are very supportive of our programmes. Today external challenges abound oil and gas prices are not at their best and there is global politics and economics playing out there at the global arena which has an impact on investment and the emergence of the Permian Basin affecting emergence of the oil and gas industry in America and so that has an impact on investment and the emergence of the basin is affecting generally the gas and oil industry in America whose companies that are reputed for high level technology and investment in conventional hydrocarbon exploration in environment like ours, have recapitulated to the local oil and gas industries in America which makes investment capital for our own investment environment having become stressed and because of this there is very little money out there and there are a lot of other jurisdictions or countries competing with ours and so it’s a big challenge to meet that competition. You have to need investment and support and you need strategy, clear leadership, and you need a clear vision. So I think we have been doing our very best to circumventing those challenges.

Prince C. Kamara: Can you in simple layman’s terms explain what the business of the Petroleum Directorate is?

Director General of Petroleum Unit Sierra Leone, Timothy Musa Kabba

Timothy Kabba: At the Petroleum Directorate,we are concerned with finding investment in the oil and gas industry from previous surveys and explorations but all these actually stopped when Ebola broke and oil prices went down, and some companies had their license cancelled and others voluntary left the country. So what we are doing now is we’ve gotten companies to put their trust in us; our process; our sector; our country and so these companies we are going to talk with them to further fund and explore what they started ie., do more survey, obtain more geophysical and geological data and then use this data to drill; to sort of zoom in and drill geo-exploration wells. These wells would then reveal the quantity and quality and deposit of hydrocarbon that we have. These drilling activities lead to huge finds and these finds could be developed into production; then our process is a milestone towards that discovery and these commercial discoveries mean Sierra Leone would then be counted into the fold of producing countries and the country’s impact would be huge in terms of the economy; in terms of the life of the people, jobs created and the nation would get dividend from resources production and then the government would be able to utilize resources from the oil and gas industry to develop human capital and infrastructure and improve the security of the state.

Prince C. Kamara: People will want to know, is there actually any drilling of oil going on as we speak?

Timothy Kabba: No. Companies have to drill. We did not have any companies until now. And so these companies are going to obtain more data in addition to the existing data that we have and then they are obligated to drill wells according to their licenses. Then, these wells will now reveal the hydrocarbon potentials of Sierra Leone. So, it is my prayers and it is my desire and aspiration that we are able to find oil in a very short period of time so we could utilize those resources to develop the human capital of this nation as well as the infrastructure and secure the landscape of the country.

Prince C. Kamara: Do you see Sierra Leone hitting huge deposits beneficial to the state shortly?

Timothy Kabba:It’s a process. You don’t just get up overnight and expect investors to put millions of Leones into drilling and get results overnight. There are processes. These processes require understanding of the geology; that is by obtaining data, doing more survey, and the outcome of these will now dictate whether the companies will now be able to drill or not. If they dig and find oil which is in large quantities which can bring prosperity to the country, they have their license for a seven year period, so within this seven year period, they should be able to drill several miles where possible to find oil. It’s a process to the end and that end like I said justifies the means. It would justify the investment; it would justify the energy involved to enhance the development of this country.

Prince C. Kamara: Perhaps you would not mind explaining to us about what went wrong with our petroleum industry.

Timothy Kabba:Perhaps you are referring to the petroleum sector. There are several issues that one will associate with sluggish behavior and handling of the petroleum industry. Key among is our inability to retain investment. Oil and gas explorations are quite expensive. When you have people come to your country to invest, one of the first things you should demonstrate is your willingness to encourage them to stay by creating an enabling environment.

See Final Part Next Edition.

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