Professor Robert E. Hinson argues that there are tremendous development and learning opportunities the Ghana National Petroleum Corportation can take advantage of to become a truly significant oil and gas player in Africa.
Ghana as an Oil and Gas Destination
Egbert Faibille, CEO of the Petroleum Commission of Ghana, in an August 2021 article notes that under the auspices of the minister of energy, and built against a backdrop of reformed market-driven policies, the commission has positioned Ghana as a highly competitive destination for upstream investment, leading to the rapid increase in oil and gas exploration and development. He notes further that by ensuring an investor-friendly business climate, Ghana now boasts the participation of some of the world’s most significant oil majors like Aker Energy and Camal Energy. He notes finally that Ghana represents one of Africa’s most successful new markets with world-class projects establishing the country as a regional oil, gas, and power hub.
Ghana and COVID-19 Recovery – The Role of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC)
For Ghana, a small West African country still reeling from the economic effects of COVID-19 like everyone else, US $18 billion could be key to economic redemption. That figure is what the Boston Consulting Group estimates Ghana could make if its national oil company, the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), goes ahead with a plan to acquire significant stakes in two offshore blocks, by buying shares in Aker/AGM. More than just laying the path to economic redemption, the proposed stake increase will finally secure Ghana a seat at the table and ultimately create a viable path to put Ghanaians in full control of their oil resources.
I conceptualize this proposed plan to acquire significant stakes in two offshore blocks, by buying shares in Aker/AGM within a social learning theory lens and argue that GNPC can acquire new behaviors by observing and imitating their partners. Social learning theory hypothesizes that new behaviors can be acquired by observing and imitating others (Bandura 1971) and that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction or direct reinforcement (Bandura 1963). I argue in this article, therefore, that the decision by the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation in Ghana to acquire significant stakes in two offshore blocks by buying a stake in Aker Energy will significantly improve its capabilities for upstream oil exploration.
The Aker Energy AS Brand
Aker Energy AS was founded in February 2018 and is established as the newest member of the Aker Group. The company aims to become the offshore oil and gas operator of choice in Ghana. Aker Energy’s LinkedIn profile describes the organization as one that is characterized by the entrepreneurial and flexible organization that is synonymous with member companies of the Aker Group. Aker Energy is operational with offices in Oslo and Accra, the capital of Ghana, and holds a 50 per cent participating interest in the Deepwater Tano Cape Three Points block in Ghana, including the Pecan development project. Other partners are Lukoil (38%), Fueltrade (2%), and Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (10%). The Tano Basin offshore Ghana is a prolific petroleum region and the DWT/CTP block is centrally located within this basin. Seven successful exploration wells and eight appraisal wells on the block have proved a significant resource base as well as a high upside.
Ghana at an Energy Crossroads
Today, Ghana is at a crossroads. The energy transition has accelerated the withdrawal from non-core areas for the super-majors and IOCs, and, unfortunately, very few areas in Africa are on the priority list for these companies. Capital is being shifted from investments in fossil fuel into renewables. Long cycle, capital intensive projects offshore are the least popular for the moment. BP is not entering into new countries. TOTAL withdrew from its acquisition of Oxy’s stake in Jubilee and TEN. Ghana is left with three comparatively smaller companies in country: ENI, Tullow, and Aker, and a production that is steadily declining. By some industry sources, the current three producing fields in Ghana would have reduced their production by 80% by 2035. All of the undiscovered oil in Ghana is at stake.
There is a very desperate need for Ghana to comprehensively mine its oil resources before 2050 when the Paris Agreement stipulates we should all go green and as a consequence, GNPC has to step up. But where does Ghana start from? The national oil company, GNPC, has existed for decades and is part of all the petroleum agreements in the country. It has several hundred employees. Still, it does not have any operational capacity and is only able to assume the passenger role in field development and production. It needs a partner. Just as the likes of Statoil in Norway were trained by the American oil companies in the 1970s, GNPC is in need of a trainer—a mentor; a partner.
This was the backdrop against which GNPC reached out to Aker and AGM. After careful consideration, Parliament gave its bi-partisan support for GNPC to negotiate with Aker a transaction that delivers on Ghana’s long-standing ambition to control its own resources. If successful, the transaction will be a landmark one; potentially, the most important acquisition any Ghanaian company has made at any point in time.
Conceptualizing the Aker Energy-Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) Marriage as a Development and Learning Opportunity
Development and learning opportunities occur in a multiplicity of ways and these include improvements in corporate orientation, technical, and soft skills as well as improvements in revenue-generating capacity. I will discuss the potential benefits of the GNPC-Aker marriage in the light of these potential development and learning opportunities.
Improvements in Corporate Orientation
The economic and social challenges that characterize the continent of Africa could be argued to be partly because of the systemic weaknesses and poor performance of public sector institutions in that region. In an assessment of countries’ performance in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) over the period of 2006 to 2015, for example, Ghana was reported as “the fifth most deteriorated country on the continent” in terms of the provision of sustainable economic opportunities to citizens. The first clear learning opportunity will be the introduction of new public management principles into GNPC by virtue of Aker’s 175-year history of professional service delivery in the oil and gas space. In conversations with some managers at Aker, it was revealed that there is a comprehensive corporate culture reorientation program to bring the GNPC corporate ethos up to the standards of Petroliam Nasional Berhad in Malaysia, for example. Petroliam Nasional Berhad is a premier national oil and gas operator who makes energy investments both in hydrocarbon and renewables across the globe and maximizes value through their integrated business model.
Technical and Soft Skills Development
In conversations with the management of Aker Energy, it was revealed that the proposed Aker/GNPC colloboration will lead to the creation of a joint operator company in the DeepWater Tano/Cape Three Points and South DeepWater Tano oil fields in Ghana, operated by Aker and its affiliate AGM, respectively, and this will give GNPC hands-on experience in exploration and production in some of the most promising oil fields in Ghana. In conversations with GNPC management as well, they also admitted the deep technological transfer that could take place if they acquired the stake in Aker Energy.
Improvements in Revenue-Generating Capacity
In the proposed acquisition of the stake in Aker Energy by GNPC the following financial contributions could be made to the Ghanaian economy:
- US$18 billion of net cash flow from the acquired stakes, tax, royalties, and the current stakes held by GNPC
- US$40 to 50 billion to the GDP of Ghana over the life of the fields
- Up to 12,000 new jobs in Ghana, according to a Boston Consulting Group assessment of the proposed collaboration
There are some debates surrounding what GNPC should be paying for the stake they want to acquire in order that they become a significant player in the oil and gas space in Ghana. This is despite the fact that GNPC has hired a third party independent expert, Lambert Energy, which has determined the value of the stakes GNPC is to acquire at US$2 billion. The Parliament of Ghana has set the maximum purchase price at US$1.1 billion, almost 50% below Lambert Energy, creating a substantial margin of error to avoid GNPC overpaying.
Additionally, it is also important to point out that recently, the ministers of finance and energy went to Parliament to seek a loan ceiling to enable them negotiate in line with the higher policy shift for GNPC to be an operator and for Ghana to take charge of its own upstream destiny in the face of the energy transitions in the global north. In this regard, Parliament only approved a loan ceiling. Cabinet approved and asked for Parliament to approve the loan ceiling mandate and tasked the two ministers to go and negotiate a price. Government has not accepted the Aker price as a fait accompli.
For me, when all the payment and pricing issues have been settled, there are tremendous development and learning opportunities the GNPC can take advantage of to become a truly significant oil and gas player in Africa, and this is what all well-meaning Ghanaians should be pushing for.
Bandura, Albert (1971). "Social Learning Theory" (PDF). General Learning Corporation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
Bandura, Albert (1963). Social Learning and Personality Development. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.