Africa Awash With Oil

Published 11 years ago
Africa Awash With Oil

China is playing a big role in African oil through its exploration companies, like Sinopec and the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, which are showing an increased interest in the commodity.


Duncan Clarke, chairman and CEO of Global Pacific & Partners, and a leading authority on African oil, says that most of the BRICS nations, along with emerging economies such as Korea, have an interest in Africa. He says there are around 500 companies involved in upstream oil production on the continent, many opting for joint venture arrangements. Africa’s long-term oil and gas potential is huge but politics may hamper growth.

FORBES/FOCUS oil in Africa “The terms are getting tougher and what may appear demanding on the investor actually smacks of resources nationalism,” says Clarke. Political instability in the East Africa region has impeded any major developments over the past 20 years in countries like Somalia, Mozambique, Uganda and Ethiopia, according to research analyst at Frost and Sullivan, Ross Bruton. Aside from political instability, there is inadequate infrastructure, especially at ports. Refining capacity is lacking in many countries, including those with a long-established track record of reliable oil reserves such as Nigeria and Angola, according to Bruton. South Africa—which has no oil reserves to speak of—currently holds 80% of refining capacity in Southern Africa.


Southern Africa is not a major oil producer, with the notable exception of the Cabinda region of Angola which has reserves of over 5 billion barrels and surpassed the 2 billion barrel per day average production of African oil heavyweight Nigeria in 2008.

Oil companies with clout in Angola include the parastatal oil company Sonangol, Texas-based ExxonMobil, France’s Total and British Petroleum. California-based Chevron was the first multinational to be fined by an African country when Angola punished it for unsound environmental practices in 2002.

The Southern African scene may well change in the future through the discovery in July of 11 billion barrels of oil reserves o‑ the Namibian coastline. One of the key companies involved is a subsidiary of London-listed Chariot Oil, Enigma Oil & Gas. “Much deep oil opportunity exists o‑ the coasts of Namibia and Angola,” says Bruton.

The DRC is a smaller oil producer with Total and Italian Oil Company Eni dominating. ExxonMobil and Chevron are also there. Mozambique is another exciting Southern African energy producer, according to Bruton. The country is a major developer of natural gas and supplies South African oil and gas heavyweight Sasol. Most recently, Mozambique’s oil authority announced that the US-based energy company, Anadarko Mozambique, had discovered a 200 billion cubic meter gas resource in the mineral-rich Rovuma basin, where Anadarko has significant investments.


Few strides in oil development have been made in East Africa because of political instability in the region. But the region has vast oil potential. Somalia alone has estimated reserves of around 10 billion barrels, but the country’s troubled political climate is scaring o‑ investment. Tullow Oil, which operates in 15 African countries, is the only significant energy company with interests in East Africa. Its most notable holding is in Uganda’s Lake Albert

Rift Basin where 1.1 billion barrels have been discovered, with a further 1.4 billion expected to be found. Tullow says that it could produce as much as 200,000 bpd in the country, but has run into difficulties. Some exploratory e‑ ort has been made in relatively stable Kenya, but with little success to recommend the country as a viable energy developer. However, mineral discoveries in Mozambique have spurred hope that black gold is lurking underneath Kenyan soil. Media reports from the country claim that small, independent developers are selling their licenses to Western-based energy giants, although details on these deals are not forthcoming.


Nigeria has the biggest explored oil reserves in sub-Saharan Africa with a presence by most of the major oil producers. It has an estimated 37 billion barrels worth of petroleum compared to Angola, which is the next biggest oil producer in Africa at 13 billion barrels. Both countries are restricted to 2 million bpd production by OPEC. Ghana is another potential rich producer in West Africa—40 billion barrels worth of reserves are estimated and these are located deep at sea. Bruton says attention has turned towards Ghana since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, which has prompted more regulation on deep sea oil exploration in the northern hemisphere. Tullow operates in Ghana’s Jubilee Fields, which are estimated at 1 billion barrels. Production is seen reaching 120,000 bpd this year.