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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Trailblazing Is Hard, But Thrilling Work

By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on July 14, 2018

Last week was a historical moment for Nabirm Energy Services (Pty) Ltd., a Namibian-based oil and gas company in which I am one of four shareholders. Nabirm’s shareholder group consists of two African-based shareholders and two African-Americans.

On July 13, 2018, Nabirm submitted its formal application for a second renewal of the company’s 2012 Petroleum Exploration License (“PEL”). The application was accompanied by the evidence required for demonstrating advancement in the company’s geotechnical work program for development of its oil block and proof of its payment of the applicable license fees. We are hopeful that the renewed license will be issued within the next couple of weeks.

To my knowledge, Nabirm is the only African/African-American-owned business on the globe that has: (a) applied for and received a PEL for a valuable offshore oil block in the Walvis Basin; (b) self-funded its oil and gas exploration and development activities through every geotechnical phase undertaken to date; (c) established and maintained a full-service headquarters in Namibia, complete with a state-of-the-arts electronic data room by industry standards; (d) undertaken and completed a 2D seismic geotechnical work program, data analyses, and environmental impact assessment without relying on a publicly traded international oil company to perform these functions for the company; (e) discovered 522 million barrels of oil and 583 billion cubic feet of methane gas; (f) scoped and defined its 3D CESM geotechnical work program with a highly qualified Norwegian company; and (g) secured the first renewal of its original PEL and submitted an application for a second license renewal.  

This is a remarkable achievement for a handful of African/African American businessmen who have banded together in a show of strength and unity to break the color barrier in the international oil and gas exploration and production industry. It took the collective efforts and combined resources of our small shareholder group to reach this point in the company’s history. 

Our Historic Journey Started in 2011

Nabirm’s journey began in early August of 2011 when our Namibian-based, U.S.-educated shareholder/Chief Executive Officer brought this business opportunity to me.  I introduced it to a close friend of mine who owns a highly successful medical equipment supply business in Montgomery, Alabama. Nabirm was formed by the three of us later that month.

In 2012, I used my relationship with a senior executive for ExxonMobil’s African operations to assess Nabirm’s oil block for its potential commercial viability.  This executive encouraged us to pursue exploration and development activities within our oil block.


Next, an African-based company led by two Cameroon businessmen joined our shareholder group in 2014 and provided Nabirm with the capital and technical expertise needed to undertake and complete our 2D seismic program.  From there, our CEO kept the company’s development activities moving forward on a brilliantly executed business plan.  

Along the way, I was able to provide all of the corporate legal services needed without requiring the payment of attorney’s fees or the reimbursement of expenses during the exploration and development phases of the business.


Finally, our shareholder group was able to self-fund the substantial fees required in connection with the company’s two consecutive license renewal applications. 

Today, Nabirm’s four shareholders still own 100% of our oil and gas company, free and clear of encumbrances.

Last week’s break-through moment came at a time while oil prices were surging. When we submitted our second license renewal application on Friday, oil was trading at $72 per barrel. The estimated costs of extracting oil offshore during commercial operations is about $15 per barrel.

Making History in the Uranium Exploration Business

On March 27, 2012, Nabirm Gobal, LLC, made history when the company was awarded a uranium concession by Epangelo Mining Company (Pty) Ltd., which is the Republic of Namibia’s national mining company. Nabirm Global is the U.S.-based parent company of Nabirm Energy Services.

The Namibian government lifted a national moratorium on uranium concessions for nuclear fuels so that Nabirm could compete for this concession against Iran’s state-owned Iranian Foreign Investment Company and others.

Nabirm worked closely with the U.S. State Department to make sure that the company had the best chance of winning this uranium concession. Our success in winning the concession kept this strategic asset out of the hands of the Iranians at a time when they were desperately trying to develop a nuclear weapons program.

A "Minnow" in a Sea Full of Giant International Oil and Gas Companies

On January 16, 2015, Upstream magazine published an article about the completion of Nabirm’s 2D geotechnical program.  Upstream is a UK-based trade magazine for the global oil and gas industry. Nobody in the industry thought Nabirm could get its 2D seismic work done without turning to the major oil companies for outside financing.  They were wrong.

The Upstream article called Nabirm a “minnow” and said, “Neither Arowolo nor Watkins has a background in the upstream oil and gas world, although they are supported by a technical team of four people.” Of course, Olayinka Arowolo is the company’s CEO.

Nabirm is now preparing for its 3D phase of petroleum development activities, followed by data analyses and the drilling of test wells. We are the only private, African/African-American-owned oil company that is developing a confirmed “unrisked” recoverable oil resource in the Walvis Basin for commercial extraction. 

We are working in the same Basin alongside of several publicly traded international energy companies. These include: (a) ExxonMobil; (b) UK-based Tullow Oil; (c) Maurel Prom, a Paris stock exchange oil company; (d) London-based Chariot Oil and Gas; (e) ONGC Videsh, Ltd., which is India’s state-owned petroleum company; (f) Madrid-based Repsol, and (g) Total, a French oil conglomerate.

It has been a privilege to make this history journey in the oil and gas industry, along with my fellow shareholders.  We are proud of what our company has been able to achieve against all odds. Never have so few shareholders accomplished so much in the oil and gas industry with such few resources.

Finally, I am firmly convinced that Nabirm will successfully reach its final destination in this long and difficult journey. We will break the color barrier in the global oil and gas industry by becoming the first African/African-American-owned oil and gas company to operate commercial-scale oil and gas wells.

Trailblazing is hard, but it is also thrilling work.

PHOTO: The logo for Nabirm Energy Services (Pty) Ltd., an oil and gas exploration company headquartered in Windhoek, Namibia.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Jul 15, 2018


My parents, grandparents, older siblings, teachers, church members, and community taught me as a child to strive toward excellence in everything we do. We cannot reach our full potential as human beings unless we use all of the talents and gifts God has bestowed upon us.

Rather than focusing on the the narrow-minded forces that oppose our growth, I tend to focus on the things that seem to be impossible for a kid who grew up in the sweltering heat of Montgomery, Alabama's rigidly-enforced racial segregation of the 1950s and 60s. Life has shown me that "good" always triumphs over "evil", and "right" always prevails over "wrong".

Throughout my entire adult life, I have always reached for the stars…


Jul 15, 2018

Thomas A. Edison once said, "The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense."

I'm not surprised that you've succeeded, Mr. Watkins. My observation is that you have all it takes to make just about anything successful. Congratulations!

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