Stakeholders have expressed concerned over the low introduction of digital technologies in Nigeria’s downstream petroleum industry value chain operations. They insisted that despite the huge benefits and positive changes the initiative had brought to the sector across the world, the country lagged far behind.
Indeed, downstream operations, including refining of petroleum crude oil, and the processing and purifying of raw natural gas, as well as the marketing and distribution of products derived from oil and gas mirror the health of the industry and economy at large, as these have direct impact on the people. While sophisticated technologies are increasingly revolutionising every aspect of petroleum downstream operations – from routine processes at refining plants to distribution of products, industry players argued that Nigeria still has a long way to go in this regard.
Indeed, operations such as retailing of products are becoming self-service, while distribution and transportation of commodities are becoming seamless, efficient, open and accurate through the deployment of new technologies in many of the world’s economies; lack of political will among policymakers has continued to frustrate catch-up efforts in Nigeria. Considering that issues relating to corruption, transparency and accountability remain major challenges surrounding the governance of natural resources in Nigeria, industry players insist that full digitalisation would offer higher value for money in the industry.
This is particularly so in areas like production, to enhance productivity, ensure efficient use of materials, better product quality, improved safety, shorter workweeks for labour, and reduced factory lead times as well as stem corruption, while increasing revenue for private and public operators. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), recently revealed that daily consumption of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise called petrol, remained unknown, but experts argued that the high level of fraud committed across retail outlets, and challenges associated with haulage of products in-country, can be addressed if digital technology is deployed.
With new refineries coming on stream and old ones billed for overhaul, experts stress the need for government and private players to ensure that digital technologies are deployed for improved process safety, and asset performance. These, will in turn, reduce unplanned shutdowns; and establish predictive maintenance with condition-based implementation by merging technology and maintenance data.
Latest report by the World Refinery Association (WRA), made available to The Guardian, indicate that since refineries, petrochemical plants, and other downstream facilities are complex installations, linking processing units with sophisticated digital technologies demand a clear plan that would prioritise clear business objectives. Such objectives will also include knowledge of best practice in the field of digitalisation equipment software, special attention to ergonomics (in mobile device applications), careful planning about the architecture/application, including complete, accurate, structured database of equipment and technology objects and emphasis on ease of handling and access.
The report also stressed the need for organisations to achieve knowledge management for business processes so that implemented databases could be easily maintained. This will allow a long-lasting framework to be “built-in” with properly designed, user-friendly access, chemical process optimisation via loop-turning and yield optimisation, monitoring of equipment and unit conditions for predictive maintenance, training applications for operators and engineers, as worker safety is key for industrial automation.
According to the WRA report, digitalisation of processes translates into a more automated operating environment, and workforce adjustment. Speaking on the development, the General Manager, Corporate Services, Petroleum Equalisation Fund (Management) Board (PEF), Dr. Goddy Nnadi, said there is a conscious attempt by the Government to automate downstream operations, especially the services handled by the agency.
On his part, Chairman/CEO, International Energy Services (IES) Ltd., Dr Diran Fawibe, while urging marketers to digitalise operations of fuel stations across Nigeria, to make them self-service outlets, noted that this may be jettisoned because it would be capital intensive. He said: “It is a whole lot of technology development. I am not sure the country has such resources, but I am sure it can be done depending on the amount of financial resources that could be deployed.
However, the WRA Report noted that the expanding roles of wireless systems in downstream facilities can enable companies to collect data unprecedented in richness and timeliness because the sensors increasingly rely on wireless communication networks rather than “hard-wiring”.