Africa is finally discovering the benefits from the recovery in crude prices, while companies also ramp up drilling from Algeria to Namibia. After a years-long hiatus during the oil price slump, the rigs are returning and wildcatters are totally excited again. Companies are snatching up exploration rights and are doing deals – from majors like Total SA to independents such as Tullow Oil Plc.
“When you go for business development, trying to acquire licenses or make partnerships in West Africa, you can sense the competition,” Gilbert Yevi, senior vice president of exploration and production for Sasol Ltd., said in an interview in Cape Town. “It’s like a new California gold rush.”
Africa’s upbringing was remarkably different just a year ago. Crude seemed like it may hold at $50 a barrel over the long term at the continent’s largest oil and gas conference, while exploration in most countries was in a rut. However, Africa Oil Week is back in Cape Town on Tuesday, in which nations throughout the continent are planning to sell exploration licenses, or to move ahead with major projects.
The reward for both companies and countries could be huge. There is the possibility of at least 41 billion barrels of oil and 319 trillion cubic feet of gas yet to be discovered in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a 2016 U.S. Geological Survey report.
Baker Hughes reports that in 2018, the number of oil and gas rigs in Africa reached a three-year high, while there are also more prospects in the near future as the Republic of Congo, the newest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, offers both onshore and offshore blocks.
Cairn Energy PLC is going forward with its project in Senegal, which is the largest offshore oil find of 2014 – expected to produce 100,000 barrels a day. “It has completely changed the potential for Senegal in a very positive way,” CEO Simon Thomson said in an interview. “It shows what can happen through the drillbit, through exploration.”
Bloomberg reports that Exxon Mobil Corp. is targeting western and southern Africa for the world’s next big bonanza and also bought a stake in a frontier exploration block offshore Namibia. The company is even expected to spend hundreds of millions in Mozambique with partner Rosneft Oil Co. PJSC and other explorers on blocks won in 2015.
According to the company, Mozambique will see $156 billion in tax revenue from Exxon’s onshore liquefied natural gas project. In addition, Total and Eni SpA are also nearing production sharing deals for oil and gas in Ivory Coast, said two people familiar with the matter said on November 1.
Though there is much excitement, Sasol’s Yevi made sure to make some notes of caution. The African oil industry has experienced a number of traps in previous booms. The first is to approve projects in sufficient time to ensure they don’t miss out on benefits of a period of higher prices. “If the cycle is not long, sometimes we only catch the tail end of it in Africa,” he said. In order to successfully develop its natural resources, Africa will need to have the capability within governments and regulators to further control how the windfall is spent in other sectors, Yevi said.
“Converting volume into value is undoubtedly sub-Saharan Africa’s Achilles heel,” said Adam Pollard, a senior research analyst at consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. Still, that hasn’t dampened enthusiasm because “the continent has been responsible for some company-making discoveries in the past.”