TONY ATTAH ‘We need to raise our game’

With com­pe­ti­tion grow­ing rapidly across the con­ti­nent and the globe, NLNG wants to move quickly ahead with a new unit to process lique ed nat­u­ral gas (LNG)

The Africa Report - - TOP 500 AFRICAN COMPANIES - In­ter­view by NI­CHOLAS NORBROOK in Ki­gali

Tony Attah, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Nigeria LNG (NLNG) ar­gues that the next decades will be­long to nat­u­ral gas. “We have been rid­ing on the back of oil for more than 50 years,” says Attah, “now it is time to fly on the wings of gas. Most people don’t re­alise that Nigeria is more a gas nation than an oil one.”

The op­ti­mism is partly driven by where gas sits on the spec­trum that runs from emis­sion-heavy fos­sil fu­els to re­new­able en­ergy .“Gas is cleaner, fun­da­men­tally cleaner than coal, at least four times cleaner, maybe two or three times cleaner than oil,” says Attah. As such, it is the ideal ‘am­phib­ian’ en­ergy source to bridge the gap be­tween the mas­sive baseload re­quire­ments of mod­ern in­dus­trial economies and a car­bon-free fu­ture.

There are other dy­nam­ics at play, too. For ex­am­ple, Ger­many’s turn away from nu­clear power has made it the world’s largest nat­u­ral gas im­porter, while Asian coun­tries such as Ja­pan have also be­come large im­porters of nat­u­ral gas.

“We are seven bil­lion [people on earth] to­day. Over nine bil­lion by 2050, which is not re­ally that far off,” says Attah. The dy­nam­ics are “more pop­u­la­tion, higher de­mand for en­ergy but also new pres­sures around en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges that the world is fac­ing.”

Nonethe­less, Attah says it is im­por­tant for NLNG not to rest on its lau­rels. The pace of in­no­va­tion is such that it is “enough to keep you awake at night as a CEO – every­one wants to be the disruptor, no one wants to be dis­rupted.” The ex­plo­sion in pop­u­lar­ity of so­lar- driven mini-grids, for ex­am­ple, or de­cen­tralised power dis­tri­bu­tion projects, make it tough to pre­dict fu­ture en­ergy re­quire­ments.

That un­cer­tainty, how­ever, was not the cause of the great hia­tus in NLNG’S growth. “If I step back, be­tween 1999 and 2006 Nigeria LNG was the fastest-grow­ing gas plant in the world. Every 18 months we were adding a new train,” Attah tells The Africa Report. Rather, he says, the com­plex­ity of manag­ing the ini­tial six trains stalle d the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the sev­enth much-trailed train – a pu­rifi­ca­tion and liq­ue­fac­tion unit.

“We only started production 20 years ago, so we’re not re­ally a very old coun­try in terms of the LNG mar­ket. We’re just be­gin­ning to ma­ture,” says Attah. The fi­nan­cial po­si­tion of the com­pany has also im­proved be­cause it has paid off its debts. “We have paid off the mort­gage. It gives you a bit of flex­i­bil­ity to ap­proach the mar­ket again,” he says. Train 7 would be a big boost for the com­pany, in­creas­ing production from 22m tonnes per an­num (MTPA) to 30MTPA. For com­par­i­son, the global gas gi­ant Qatar pro­duces around 77MPTA.

The project is now slowly com­ing out of the blocks. Two front- end en­gi­neer­ing and design (FEED) con­tracts were ten­dered in 2018, won by Saipem and KBR. “We have a dual FEED strat­egy, so we signed off two con­sor­tia to carry out the

‘ EVERY­ONE WANTS TO BE THE DISRUPTOR, NO ONE WANTS TO BE DIS­RUPTED’

design in a com­pet­i­tive bid,” says Attah, who adds that NLNG will scru­ti­nise those bids in July, ahead of the fi­nal in­vest­ment de­ci­sion in the last quar­ter of the year.

Nigeria has been mak­ing progress on lo­cal con­tent. Since 2010, all oil and gas projects in Nigeria by law must have a cer­tain per­cent­age of work done by com­pa­nies in the coun­try. That presents chal­lenges in the case of LNG. “The ca­pac­ity to play in the cryo­genic world – where we cool liq­uids to -162°C – that’s not some­thing that Nigeria has a lot of ca­pac­ity in.”

100% Nige­rian

NLNG has found some creative so­lu­tions that use in­house knowl­edge, build­ing from scratch in Nigeria rather than im­port­ing mod­ules from abroad. “I have 100% Nige­rian management. I don’t have any ex­pa­tri­ate or for­eign ex­pert on my lead­er­ship team,” says Attah. “If you [were] to roll back the clock 20 years, you’d be lucky to find one Nige­rian on the lead­er­ship team of this com­pany. That is a ma­jor tran­si­tion in terms of knowl­edge trans­fer, tech­nol­ogy trans­fer and ca­pac­ity build­ing […].”

For Attah, Train 7 will be a turn­ing point and the be­gin­ning of a new phase of en­ergy devel­op­ment for the coun­try. It is not too am­bi­tious, he ar­gues, to see Nigeria be­ing the next Qatar, “grow­ing mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions, grow­ing mul­ti­ple LNG plants”.

“Look at the re­source base that Nigeria has. We have done a sur­vey of re­serve-to-lng ca­pac­ity. It is minute com­pared to others,” says Attah. Trinidad and Tobago, for ex­am­ple, has a 15MPTA plant, with 100trn cu­bic feet (TCF) of re­serves. “I have over 200TCF of gas, plus 600TCF po­ten­tial, which is why to­day we are num­ber nine in the world [of coun­tries ranked by gas re­serves]. But if we prove our 600TCF, we go to num­ber four. So the scope for gas in Nigeria is im­mense.”

He is acutely aware of other coun­tries that are also ramp­ing up their production ca­pac­ity. While Qatar pre­vi­ously led the world with 77MPTA, Aus­tralia has usurped the top spot, now pro­duc­ing 89MPTA. The US is climb­ing strongly. “If most of the ca­pac­ity there that we read about comes to fruition […] we don’t want to be pushed too far down. We need to raise our game.”

While prais­ing the gov­ern­ment’s sup­port for NLNG, he has had to ne­go­ti­ate the oc­ca­sional hos­tile at­tempt by leg­is­la­tors to un­pick some of the cor­po­ra­tion’s tax ex­emp­tions – once in 2008 and again in 2016. “I think it’s safe to say that there were quite a few mis­con­cep­tions,” says Attah. “And you can­not start to dig at the foundation of a com­pany of this pedi­gree that de­liv­ers absolute value to the coun­try. To­day we are more than $100bn in rev­enues gen­er­ated and over $15bn in div­i­dends to gov­ern­ments. That’s huge. We are the largest tax­payer in the coun­try.”

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