By Kim Moss, for Future Directions International
Decades of exploration in East Africa, have produced few large discoveries of oil and gas. Past exploration has also been hampered by political uncertainty and regional conflict. Things look set to change, however.
Attention is now focusing on East Africa’s offshore natural gas discoveries and this process escalated in 2012. The discoveries have garnered the attention of large international oil companies, which has led to investments in large exploration projects in the region. The gas finds have generated a marked interest, due not only to their size but also their placement in proximity to Asia. The discoveries have placed East Africa in the running to supply major Asian Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) importers, putting them in competition with the USA and Australia.
Where are these fields located and who are the primary players?
The primary areas of interest for oil and gas discoveries in east Africa, both onshore and offshore, are Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Madagascar. These countries have also shown the most progress in readying themselves for commercial development. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has predicted that Uganda and Madagascar are poised to become Africa’s top oil producers. As this paper seeks to explore the opportunities available from offshore natural gas discoveries, however, the focus will be on Tanzania and Mozambique.
The primary offshore discoveries in East Africa have been off the coasts of Mozambique and Tanzania, where estimates indicate that the discoveries contain at least 100 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas. The finds, which have been equated to those off the North West Shelf of Western Australia, have attracted a variety of oil and gas companies, ranging from junior independents to oil majors. Several Australian companies are already involved in the region, primarily Tanzania, as both operators and joint venture partners on several projects. Energy, Beach Energy Limited (ASX:BPT), Jacka Resources Ltd (ASX:JKA) and BOUNTY OIL AND GAS (OTCMKTS:BYOGF), are all involved in Tanzanian projects. As the interest in the area has escalated an interesting trend has begun to emerge; there has been an increase in Asian, state-backed oil and gas companies buying into these projects at high prices.
In Mozambique, the key players are Italy’s Eni SpA (NYSE:E) (BIT:ENI) and the US independent Anadarko. These companies have led successful exploration in their offshore licence areas (Area 1 and Area 4) According to Anadarko, the company has drilled more than a dozen deepwater wells within the Offshore Area 1 Block with discoveries of between 35 and 65 tcf of recoverable natural gas.
In contrast, the discoveries in Tanzania are smaller than those in Mozambique. The key players in this area are considered to be BG Group plc (LON:BG) (OTCMKTS:BRGYY) and Statoil ASA (NYSE:STO) which have thus far led offshore exploration activities in Tanzania. BG and partner Ophir Energy Plc (LON:OPHR) have made seven discoveries in Blocks 1, 3, and 4 and Statoil, in partnership with Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM), has made four discoveries in Block 2.
The two countries are at varying stages of development and it is difficult to forecast a clear front-runner; however, it is worth noting that the EIA predicts that Mozambique will be the first of the two to develop the capability to export LNG.
Anadarko has said that it anticipates sales of LNG from Mozambique will begin in 2018, reaching full operational capacity by 2030-32. Commentators have argued otherwise, however, stating that a more reasonable expectation for the commencement of LNG sales would be 2020.
Why should Australian companies invest in East Africa?
East Africa is a region that is still relatively underexplored and thus represents a frontier market. The discoveries provide numerous opportunities for investment, not only as part of the upstream process, but also in other sectors that will subsequently face increased demand. For example, London-listed Baobab Resources is calling for a strategic partner to assist in developing its pig-iron project in Mozambique’s northern Tete Province due to the surge in demand for steel from the emerging energy sector; a trend that is expected to continue in the medium-term.
East Africa’s governance has also improved, as has the economy; consequently it is becoming more attractive for foreign investors. Australia’s private