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Engagement of oil firms boosting discoveries in East Africa

State efforts to engage and attract major oil companies that are fully equipped to deploy modern and versatile petroleum exploration technologies is having a major impact on oil and gas discoveries.

According to the Commissioner for Petroleum at Kenya's Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, Martin Heya, the country and its neighbours are greatly benefitting from new technology, and it is set to have a lasting effect on the area.

"Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia and Mozambique have all benefited from advanced technologies," he said, citing the likes of Full Tensor Gradionometry (FTG) and 3D seismic surveys, which are increasing the precision with which subsurface structures that trap hydrocarbons can be targeted.


As such, this is turning the region into something of a hydrocarbon production hotspot, Mr Heya elaborated.

The effect on employment has not been overlooked either, with recent figures suggesting that the region is developing local technical experts who are capable of monitoring oil and gas contractor operations, as well as verifying exploration results as projects progress.

One potential barrier is the current lack of adequate oil and gas infrastructure - something that could have an impact on revenues if not addressed.

Mr Heya says that a "significant mismatch" between the pace of discovery and implementation of corresponding infrastructure projects could pose a problem, though there is positive news in the form of Kenya's drilling of 69 wells since oil exploration efforts began, with encouraging discoveries in three basins.

Rapid expansion

Presently, 12 of the wells have been designated discovery wells, with nine containing crude oil and two holding natural gas, though the Anza Basin contains both gas and oil.

Kenya in particular has spent the last decade with an eye on expanding its oil industry, with a 2005 Sessional Paper on Energy providing for the reduction of block sizes, to limit oil companies' tendency to horde them.

It is estimated that the country's crude oil reserves now stand at at one billion barrels - something that has been attributed to the subdivision of sedimentary basins into smaller units, and helped by Kenya increasing the number of oil blocks from 37 to 46.

So far, 41 of these have been licenced to 21 different international oil companies, and neighbouring nations are following suit.

Eye on the future

In a bid to attract further investment in the region, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have all introduced stand alone petroleum exploration laws for governing upstream petroleum operations, thereby creating a favorable legal environment for oil companies to explore.

According to Charles Tanui, Kenya Pipeline Managing Director, a "rapid revolution" is being witnessed in the oil industry in East Africa, with the region now the world's top hydrocarbon exploration area and over 250,000 square kilometers of land mass unexploited, meaning the upward swing is likely to continue in the years ahead.

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