The scramble for East Africa
| October 18, 2013
Go East might be the new motto for oil and gas investors buzzing around in the search of profitable routes to new markets, low cost and little risk. Over the past few years, the hype about East Africa has grown after oil was found in Uganda and Madagascar and gas in Tanzania and Mozambique. And now also Kenya is becoming a hot spot — probably even the first East African oil exporter before Uganda.
How much is there? As of now, East Africa has proven oil reserves of maybe 8 billion bbl (adding estimates of recent oil finds in Kenya of about 300 million bbl), which is fairly little in comparison to North Africa with proven oil reserves of 65 billion bbl and West Africa with 38 billion bbl. In terms of gas, East Africa has about 11.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) compared to 290 Tcf in North Africa.
However, what makes this market interesting are not proven reserves, but prospects and, above all, location.
Location is everything. The shorter the transport route, the lower the transport costs and the lower the price for buyers. East Africa is much closer to the emerging markets of India and China than West Africa. For instance, it takes 27 days to transport cargo from Soyo, Angola, to Shanghai compared to 19 days from Lamu, Kenya, to Shanghai.
The region is also more secure than Iran or Saudi Arabia, two of China's major suppliers. (Maybe you remember that Iran threatened to close the strait of Hormuz last year which would have blocked one-third of global oil supply.)
Further, prospects are high. Africa Oil — the company that recently struck oil together with Tullow in the Lokichar Basin in North Kenya — believes there could be up to 20 billion bbl in the basin alone.
But not every deal is as sweet as it sounds. One of the downsides of investing in East Africa is that there is not much infrastructure yet, and there might be not much infrastructure in the near future.
Initially, Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya thought about building a common pipeline route to the Kenyan port of Lamu. The Project is known as “Lamu Port and Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor” or LAPSSET, in short. Yet, one year after the initial agreement, none of the member countries seems to be sure whether the project is the right way to go.
Uganda and South Sudan have already announced alternative pipeline routes (for South Sudan's oil via Ethiopia to the port of Djibouti, and for Uganda a straight route to Mombasa or Dar es Salaam). That gave the Economist the reason to term the dilemma pipeline poker — if LAPSETT won't happen, building alternative routes will take a while.
On another positive note, however, Anadarko and ENI signed an agreement to build an onshore LNG facility in Afungi Park in the North of Mozambique soon. So, let's go East?
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