Bloomberg News

Senegal Plans Offshore Oil Drilling as West Africa Output Grows

September 02, 2011

Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Energy companies operating in Senegal will drill three offshore wells next year as the West African nation vies to join a growing group of regional crude producers, according to the state-owned oil company, Petrosen.

Senegalese officials held talks with more than 10 oil companies this year in attempts to lure investors to its energy industry, said Joseph Medou, Petrosen’s geologist, in an interview in Dakar Aug. 25.

“If we make comparisons to what is happening in Ghana and Ivory Coast, to Sierra Leone, we think we have the same kind of plays,” he said.

Senegal’s drive for oil investments comes after the start of production at the offshore Jubilee field in December, which made Ghana the continent’s newest oil exporter. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are among other states that border the Gulf of Guinea and are in stages of offshore exploration. Also in West Africa is Nigeria, the continent’s biggest oil producer, and Ivory Coast, which exported 234,679 metric tons of crude in July.

Seismic studies show one block, under exploration by First Australian Resources Ltd., may contain as much as 1 billion barrels of crude, Medou said. The Subiaco, Australia-based company is also planning to drill a second site that may hold another 200 million barrels, he said.

Presidential Approval

First Australian is waiting for approval from Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade before drilling the wells, according to an e-mailed document from the company. No information on potential reserves was provided.

A third bloc, jointly controlled by Senegal and Guinea- Bissau, is being explored by London-based Ophir Energy Plc and Noble Energy Inc. of Houston, according to a Petrosen document.

“Within three to five years, I think we will have at least something, a field that can produce, maybe even a big one,” Medou said.

Production of offshore oil would be “an enormous project,” requiring the expansion of Senegal’s Dakar port and improvements at the country’s lone refinery, Societe Africaine de Raffinage, said Senior Port Planner Chris Matson at Moffatt and Nichol, a Long Beach, California-based company that plans and develops infrastructure projects including ports and railways. Matson met with Senegalese mining ministry officials on Aug. 2.     “In the long term, having all this construction is going to help the country provide skilled labor and good jobs,” he said by phone Aug. 29.

Senegal, which suffers from regular power cuts that led to violent street protests in June, is also hoping to find reserves of natural gas that can be used for electricity generation, said Medou.

Africa Fortesa Corp. of Houston will drill an exploration well to expand output at a bloc known to hold at least 13 billion cubic feet of natural gas, he said.

--Editors: Emily Bowers, Alastair Reed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Drew Hinshaw in Dakar via Accra at ebowers1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.


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