Nigeria’s largest refinery set for major overhaul
AFTER several years of neglect, occasioned by a systemic plan to make the country a perpetual importer of refined petroleum products, hope has been rekindled for the revival of Nigeria’s largest refinery in Elele, near Port Harcourt.
The moribund refinery has two petroleum refining plants. The old one was built in 1965, with installed capacity of 60,000 barrels per day (bpd), enough to meet domestic needs of the country at that time.
The old refinery, built by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), has a crude distillation unit, catalytic reforming unit and Liquefied Petroleum Gas unit, as well as utility unit.
The second refinery, built in 1989, has 150,000 bpd capacity and consists of crude distillation unit, catalytic reforming unit, the fluid catalytic cracking unit and the hydrofluoric (HF), Alkylation unit, with a total refining capacity of the two, being 210,000 bpd.
These two key national assets are presently in sheer state of disrepair due to lack of maintenance and what some key players in the petroleum sector have described as a deliberate and calculated attempt kill the refineries to serve the selfish interest of a few Nigerians.
The Group Executive Director, Refining and Petrochemicals, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Tony Ogbuigwe, had last year at the first international conference on petroleum refining and petrochemicals, organised by the University of Port Harcourt and Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) in Port Harcourt, revealed the schedule for the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) of the Port Harcourt refinery.
He disclosed that after the award of the contract, the contractor would commence detailed planning and mobilisation of manpower and heavy equipment to the refinery site.
It was expected, according to him, that by next month (February), the refinery would be shut down and formally handed over to the contractor for the TAM to be executed in over 45 days.
And all things being equal, the country’s biggest refinery should be back in operation by April this year.
The Guardian investigation revealed that the federal government has awarded the contract for the TAM to Maire Tecnimont of Italy.
A source at the refinery said the contractor has already visited the refinery and some necessary materials for the overhaul of the plants have been delivered.
According to him, government had initially wanted to award the rehabilitation job to JGC Engineering of Japan, original builders of the refinery, but the company declined due to fear of insecurity in the Niger Delta.
Chairman of Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Magnus Abe, last year blamed the delay of the TAM on the travel advisory issued by the Japanese government.
But the spokesperson of the Japanese embassy in Nigeria, Shinichi Maruo, refuted the allegation.
A top staff of the refinery, who spoke to The Guardian on the basis of anonymity, decried the lack of maintenance of the twin refineries in the last 12 years.
He, however, expressed optimism that unlike in the past, the federal government has demonstrated commitment to fix the moribund refinery this time around.
“We have not started production of petroleum products, but there is hope. The contractor has been engaged and has visited the site. Necessary materials needed for the turn around maintenance have been supplied.
“I can, however, confirm that the physical mobilisation of personnel has not commenced,” he said.
The source explained that preparation for the eventual commencement of the rehabilitation of the refinery was in top gear, saying the determination of government is unprecedented in the past 15 years.
The inability of the refinery to attain its optimal utilisation is primarily due to non-compliance with the TAM schedules.
Furthermore, the refinery has been deviled with serious power problem, as only two of its four installed steam turbines that power the plants have been functional for several years.
Prior to now, the two turbines were supposed to be running at the same time, with the two others on standby, against the current scenario, where only one turbine works at a time.
It would be recalled that Ogbuigwe had disclosed that arrangement for a new captive power supply through gas turbine by an independent power provider had been concluded and a power purchase agreement signed.
According to him, the supply of power to the refinery would commence by March this year, in time to re-stream the plant’s TAM.
The Guardian was reliably informed that one of the major problems affecting the refinery is the delay in fixing the damaged Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) and rotor.
A management staff at the refinery said if the government funds the refineries very well and remove all the bureaucratic bottlenecks, Nigerian engineers could effectively manage them.
He said some of the engineers working at the Eleme Petrochemical plants were recruited from the Port Harcourt Refinery, insisting: “Some of the problems have to do with bureaucracy, approval unit and under-funding.
“The approval unit of the NNPC can only approve contract not exceeding N5 million and if you need to buy equipment worth over a $1 million, that paper must go to the corporate headquarters, from there to the GMD (Group Managing Director), and then to the President.
“Sometimes, before you get the approval, you will find out that the price might have gone up and so you have to write again for variation.”
Former Petroleum minister, Prof Tam David-West, who signed the contract for the second Port Harcourt refinery in 1984, explained that Nigeria was supposed to have had at least five refineries by 1986, if the Ibibo and Efik in the old Cross River State had resolved their squabbles over the location of the refinery, which the Alhaji Shehu Shagari administration had planned to build in that state
Source – The Gaurdian