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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Alake’s tar sands, Umahi’s concrete

Alake’s tar sands, Umahi’s concrete

By Salisu Na’inna Dambatta

An entry at ScienceDirect says, “Extensive tar sands with reserves of about 41 billion barrels of oil are known to occur in Cretaceous terrigenous sediments in Ondo and Ogun states. The hydrocarbon occurs in two predominantly sandy zones separated by an eight-metre thick oil shale.”

Another report says Edo and Lagos states too have tar sands deposits.

What are tar sands? “Tar sands are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy, black, asphalt-like hydrocarbon. Bitumen from tar sands can be upgraded to synthetic crude oil and refined to make asphalt, gasoline, jet fuel, and value-added chemicals.”

The names of two ministers are part of the title for this item because the ministries they supervise need each other and the ministers need to collaborate in the interest of Nigeria.

The federal ministry of works and its contractors rely 100 per cent on inputs that originated from Nigerian and foreign mines to construct roads, bridges, drainages and every road furniture. The main materials include water, sand, gravel, stones, iron and steel, bitumen or asphalt.

As the minister of works, Engineer David Nweze Umahi, is legitimately championing the  use of cement for the construction of highways in Nigeria, it would be worthy were he to link up with Dr. Henry Dele Alake, his counterpart in the federal ministry of solid minerals to collaborate on processing and utilising the country’s large tar sands deposits for road construction.

Bitumen is also used in waterproofing roofs and “as a binder,  in asphalt for roads, runways, parking lots, and footpaths. Gravel and crushed rock are mixed with thick bitumen, holding it together and it is then applied to roadways,” an entry on Investopedia says.

Another source says, “Bitumen and bituminous materials have been known and used in construction works since ancient times, approximately 6000 B.C. Asphalts were used as cements to hold stonework together, in boat building and as waterproofing in pools and baths.”

Certainly highways have been constructed with cement in many countries, including a stretch in Kogi State and the aprons of some of the airports in Nigeria.

In an article in Construction, an online publication, Sherry Sutherland wrote, “Concrete pavements are known for their strength, durability, and longevity. In the past, they have also been associated with a high initial price. However, in a number of lifecycle cost studies, concrete pavements prevail due to their significantly lower maintenance and rehabilitation needs.”

However,  asphalt derivable from tar sands and the bitumen expected from the Kaduna Petrochemical Refining Company, should still be part of the mix  in the construction of highways in Nigeria.

The minister of works may consider encouraging Highway contractors to buy all the bitumen  from the Kaduna Refinery whenever it resumes refining heavy crude oil after its ongoing rehabilitation.

If the tar sands deposits in Nigeria are utilised, our country will no longer   import the material from Italy, Germany or any of the eleven top asphalt producing countries. Astonishingly, Nigeria imports bitumen from Egypt, whereas billions of tons of its deposits in Nigeria is ignored.

This writer recollects that as governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu attended one of the Mining Indabas  in Cape  Town, South Africa and had a discussion on sundary issues with then minister of solid minerals development, Malam Musa Gwadabe.

Governor Tinubu’s participation in the South African Mining Indaba could be an indicator of his interest in the mining sector. That interest may now be brought to bear regarding extracting, processing and using the tar sands deposits for the multiple benefits it holds for Nigeria as highlighted in various studies.

This is especially important as the   average price of bitumen was USD1, 955 per ton in 2021. This implies that if Nigeria utilises the deposits of our tar sands, the country will save foreign exchange. The high cost of building roads will also fall.


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