Exploration And Production Of Barite In Cross River To Meet Growing Demand By International Oil Companies BY EMMANUEL ETIM

In Breaking News, Business & Economy, Columnists, National News, Opinion
Emmanuel Etim and Barite stones samples
Emmanuel Etim and Barite stones samples

In 2013, my company in partnership with the Cross River State Government through the Department of Mineral Resources, Governors Office, Calabar and the Calabar Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Mines and Agriculture (CALCIMA) organized the first Nigeria International Conference on Mineral Resources (NICOM 2013) in Calabar. The conference brought together experts and stakeholders in the Mineral resource sector of the nation’s economy to discuss important issues affecting the sector.

Among other things, it was established in the conference that Nigeria in general and Cross River State in particular are naturally endowed and rich in mineral resources and the sustainable exploration and exploitation of these resources have the potential of turning around the economy of the country and the state. One of such identified mineral resource that has the potential of contributing immensely to the growth of the Cross River State economy is barite.

Barite is a heavy mineral which occurs in a large number of depositional environments, and is deposited through a large number of processes including biogenic, hydrothermal, and evaporation, among others.

About 80 percent of barite worldwide is used as a weighting agent for drilling fluids in oil and gas exploration to suppress high formation pressures and prevent blowouts. It is also used by the paint industry and pharmaceuticals for drugs.

Barite is one of the many solid minerals that are found in commercial quantities in Nigeria. Barite which is simply barium sulphate (BaSO4) occurs in large deposits in the Benue Trough.

Over 7.5 million tonnes of barite have been identified in Cross River, Benue, Taraba and Bauchi States of the upper and middle Benue troughs.

Cross River State has the highest quality of barite in Nigeria. In the state, the mineral can be found in commercial quantities in Obubra LGA, Ikom LGA, Biase LGA and Ogoja LGA.

Spirited efforts have been made to mine and process this mineral in the state in the past for industrial use, especially in the petroleum subsector. These efforts have not been successful owing to various challenges facing the sector in the state.

The purpose of this treatise is to propose how the Cross River State Government can partner with the Organized Private Sector to meet some of the challenges in the sector and promote the exploration, exploitation and production of barite in the state to meet the need of the international oil companies in Nigeria.

It is expected that the development of the sector will create jobs for youth and contribute to the growth of the Cross River State economy.

The Nigerian Government banned the importation of barite into the country in 2003, due to its assessed availability in commercial quantity in the country.

However in 2013, the International Oil Companies (IOCs) applied for a lift of the ban on the importation of the product into the country. The oil giants’ excuses for seeking to import barite into Nigeria, was simply that the quality of the Nigerian-made barite was a far cry from international standard.

The Association of Miners and Processors of Barite on the other hand, recently decried how Nigeria looses over N6.2 billion annually to incessant granting of waivers for the importation of barite.

They lamented how imported barite is posing a barrier to the development of the Nigerian mining sector. Uncontrolled importation, they claimed, was done through waivers in spite of the ban by the Federal Government.

The Committee on Waiver of the Ban on Import of Barite and Bentonite had in its report submitted to the government, disclosed that the country had a shortfall of 31,318.65 tonnes of barite, against local demand level. The committee put the natural production level of barite at 39,181.35 tonnes, against the local demand of 70,590 tonnes.

It has become clear that both the federal and state government must put in place measures capable of raising the local production of barite to meet local demand especially the requirements of the oil industry thus reducing the import of the product and saving the country scarce foreign exchange.

What are some of these challenges that limit the sustainable exploration, exploitation and production of barite in Cross River State?

First, for many small investors in the past, access to mining site has been a major challenge. Since most of the locations where these barite ore are found are located in remote areas with little or no access roads, exploitation has become nearly impossible as trucks find it difficult to go in and come out of these mining sites.

Government must thus draw in larger investors and partner with them to create access to identified mining locations in the state for easy evacuation of mined barite to production companies.

In Cross River State presently, there is only one barite Production Company and even this is not functioning optimally due to challenges already enumerated in the sector. Cross River State Government must thus attract Local Direct and Foreign Direct Investment in the production of barite in the state.

This will ensure that barite explored in the state is processed to the best quality to meet the industry standard. This will also create jobs for our youth and contribute to the growth of the state economy.

In the direction of the product not meeting the required quality, since Nigerian barite is known to have a specific gravity of 4.3, this challenge may arise from the manner in which the product is being processed.

The solution then is to ensure that processing companies acquire the right technology that can produce the acceptable Specific Gravity (SG), remove the grits and produce the pure white colour in line with international best practice.

How can Cross River State maximize the benefits as a state in the mineral resource sector since the sector is under the exclusive legislative list and under the direct control of the Federal Government?

This over the years has become a great challenge to many states in Nigeria and has thus limited state’s ability to harness the full potentials of mineral resources available in their domain. This issue was extensively discussed at our conference, Nigeria International Conference on Mineral Resources NICOM 2013 and the solution was articulated in the communiqué that was released after the conference.

As I had stated in an earlier article, to overcome this challenge, the Cross River State government must take specific steps to acquire rights to strategic mineral deposits and partner with private firms for the exploration, exploitation of barite in the state. In this way the Cross River State Government will not only benefit from taxes derivable from these investments but also get direct Return on Investment as a co-investor.

I will like to use this opportunity to commend the commitment of the Cross River State Government in the development of the Mineral Resources sector in the state and the recent idea by Sen. Prof. Benedict Ayade as part of his Signature Projects to set up a Cross River State Quarry and Mining Company to harness the potentials of the sector for the benefit of the state.

I believe this will go a long way in developing the sector, create jobs for youths in the state and contribute to the growth of the state economy.

Emmanuel Etim is a development consultant based in Nigeria (emmanuel.etim22@gmail.com)

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