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Nigerian state energy firm wants to boost exports to China

by Staff Writers
Abuja (AFP) Feb 23, 2011
Nigeria's state energy firm wants to boost exports to China as the poorly performing company works to restructure as part of wide-ranging industry reforms, its head said on Wednesday.

"For export, China is looking very good," Austen Oniwon, group managing director for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), told a major industry conference in the capital Abuja.

Speaking of China's energy needs, he said, "somebody has to fill this gap and I believe that NNPC and its partners should be ready."

Last year, Nigeria and a Chinese state firm signed a 23-billion-dollar deal to build three refineries and a petrochemical complex in the west African nation.

Oniwon did not provide numbers or specifics on potential exports to China in a speech that largely focused on exploiting Nigeria's extensive gas reserves. Much of Nigeria's gas is currently flared -- burned off -- in part because of a lack of infrastructure to capture and use it.

The country's gas reserves have been estimated as the world's eighth-largest.

The government wants to use those reserves to fire new power plants to address its woeful electricity supply, with outages daily occurrences in Africa's most populous nation, and to increase liquefied natural gas exports.

Most of Nigeria's gas exports have gone to Europe, according to 2009 figures from the US Energy Information Administration, while some 15 percent went to Asia.

Oniwon also spoke of boosting Nigeria's refining capacity, with the country importing much of its fuel despite its huge crude reserves. Nigeria's four refineries rarely operate at capacity, held back by poor maintenance and corruption.

"Today we are probably the only OPEC country that exports raw materials and imports finished products from the same raw materials that we export," he said.

"This is not an acceptable position at all to be in."

The NNPC, widely viewed as corruption-ridden, is to be restructured with the aim of making it into a commercially viable company as part of sweeping reforms planned for Nigeria's oil industry.

The legislation laying out the reforms has been long-delayed, putting a chill on investments in new projects in the country since international oil firms are unsure of the impact it will have on their operations.

However, government officials have pledged that the legislation will be approved within weeks.

Nigeria is among the world's largest oil exporters, producing some 2.2 million barrels per day.

The petroleum industry accounts for an estimated 90 percent of Nigeria's export earnings and 80 percent of government revenues.

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