Little or nothing was known or heard about Atala Oil Field located in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa State until early this year. Nigerdeltaconnect investigations revealed that the Atala Oil Field, otherwise known as OML 46, was discovered in 1982. It was operated by the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), until the oil company gave it up as part of its policy to divest.
Following a successful bidding process, the Bayelsa State Government, through its Bayelsa Oil Company Limited (BOCL) took ownership of the field in 2003, with exclusive exploration rights. For some inexplicable reason, the state failed to put the oil field into active use.
In 2010, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) granted the BOCL an extension of its license for five years to allow the state make the oil field productive. In 2015, at the expiration of the five years extension, the state oil company was again given a grace of 18 months to within which to renew the licence. Perhaps, aside from watchers of the oil industry, not too many Bayelsans knew about these developments.
When it had satisfied itself that it has been lenient enough with the Bayelsa Oil Company and its “unproductive” Atala oil field, the Department of Petroleum Resources revoked the license on account of the inability of the state government to keep the oil field active for all of 17 years! The oil field has already been re-allocated to an indigenous oil exploration company, Halkin Exloration and Production Ltd.
The re-allocation was conveyed to the new owners in a letter with reference No. PRES/88/MPR/72, signed by the Director/Chief Executive Officer of DPR, Mr Sarki Auwalu. According to Auwalu, the Atala oilfield was revoked along with 10 others because they had remained inactive for sometime.
For the whole of 17 years when the oil field was inactive, there was no noise but the moment the DPR, working with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, revoked the license, it was like all hell has been let loose.
First to react was the Bayelsa Oil Company Limited. Either out of shame for its inability to operate the oilfield the BOCL made a very tame attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of Bayelsans with its refutal. Along with its Joint Venture Partners, the BOCL, in a statement signed by Bello Akpoku dismissed media reports that the oilfield had been re-allocated to a new investor. The BOCL said the information contained in the said publication was “patently false, misleading and laced with criminal intent by the sponsors of the publication.
A few days after the inconsequential refutal by BOCL, precisely on Wednesday, July 14, Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri made a passionate appeal to the federal government, asking it to cancel the revocation of OML 46, which he described as “Bayelsa’s most prized asset”.
The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), in solidarity with the Bayelsa State Government, on Thursday, July 15, asked the federal government to return the oilfield to Bayelsa. That same day, the Member representing Yenagoa/Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Prof. Steve Azaiki, called on the Federal Government to re-visit the revocation and reinstate the license back to Bayelsa State.
In all of these, the DPR, NNPC, and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, that has a Bayelsan, Chief Timipre Sylva, as the number two man, maintained a studious silence.
The next twist in the tale of wahala over Atala oilfield, came from the lawmaker representing Ekeremor Constituency 2 in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Mr. Wilson Ayakpo Dauyegha has carpeted the state government for crying over the revocation of OML 46, pointing out that the oilfield would not have been revoked if the state government had been actively operating the oilfield.
Dauyegha, who is the Deputy Minority Leader in the House, said if the government had been actively operating the oilfield, it would have hastened the socio-economic development of his Constituency and its constituents, whom he described as the landlords to the oilfield.
READ ALSO : How Bayelsa lost OML 46, by Sylva
Like a bolt out of the blues, Oburu Liberation Front (OLF), a youth group in the state, has come out to lampoon the lawmaker for making spurious claims that the oilfield is domiciled in his Constituency, Ekeremor Constituency 2.
In a statement signed on behalf of the group by Michael Tare Enaigbagha, National President of OLF, said the oilfield is located at Azagbene community of Egbema Clan, which is in Ekeremor Constituency 3 and not in Constituency 2 as the lawnaker would want the world to believe. The group said it would drag the lawmaker to court if he does not retract his claim within 48 hours!
Weeks have elapsed since after the OLF issued the ultimatum but it was not immediately possible to ascertain if the group actually dragged the lawmaker to court as it threatened. Efforts to reach the lawmaker proved abortive as he did not take calls put across to him neither did he return the calls.
Who is the exact landlord to the Atala oilfield? A retired civil servant, Mr Simeon Gbakumor, who is from Ekeremor Local Government Area, said “it is a known fact that the Atala oilfield is in Egbema Clan in Ekeremor Constituency 3. Azagbene community in Ekeremor and Izetu as well as Ikeni communities are the joint landlords of the Atala oilfield”
This position by Gbakumor corroborates the claim by the Oburu Liberation Front. It just might be necessary to invite the Office of the Bayelsa State Surveyor General to carry out an assessment of the area and decide whether the oilfield is in Ekermor Constituency 2 or Ekeremor Constituency 3. Until that is done, the wahala of Atala oilfield continues.