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Situation Assessment 12 September, 2023

Has Africa Become a Global Energy Player?

The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 

In recent years, promising oil and gas discoveries, especially in the western region, have given Africa increasing prominence in the global energy sector. The ongoing war in Ukraine and the increasing tension between the United States and China have changed the global energy map, and competition over energy sources and supply lines has heated up accordingly. Although unlikely to constitute an alternative to Russian and Gulf resources, some estimates suggest that recent energy discoveries on the African continent may completely change the rules of brokering on energy markets, especially in light of the continent’s proximity to Western Europe.[1]

The Emergence of Africa as a Global Energy Powerhouse

acrobat Icon The Ukraine war and Europe's shift away from Russian energy sources have increased the significance of the discoveries in West Africa. Nigeria, Angola, Algeria, and Libya are now classified among the 20 largest oil producing countries in the world, while Algeria, Egypt, and Nigeria are classified among the 20 largest natural gas producing countries in the world.[2] In the last two decades, other African countries have joined the oil and gas production industry, bringing the number of producer countries up to 19.[3] The majority of new oil and gas discoveries in Africa have been made in the western region overlooking the Gulf of Guinea, most notably Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Angola, and Gabon, while Mozambique and Tanzania in the east have also made important energy discoveries.[4]

Since its outbreak in 2014, the Ukrainian crisis has contributed to a growth in exploration and development projects by major energy companies in African gas and oil fields, with almost 200 companies now operating in 48 out of 55 countries.[5] A report issued by the environmental research group Urgewald showed that capital investment in oil and gas exploration in Africa increased significantly during 2022, reaching about $5 billion, compared to $3.4 billion in 2020. The same group estimates that 89 percent of the new infrastructure for gas development and exploration in Africa is being built to export gas to Europe and Asia.[6] McKinsey & Company estimates that demand for oil and gas resources in Africa will grow strongly through 2040, by about 30 percent.[7] The move towards a future based on low-carbon energy may open new doors for African gas-producing countries, especially those that have recently emerged as liquefied natural gas producers and exporters.[8]

In fact, over the past ten years, Africa has witnessed a significant increase in its share of new gas discoveries globally, reaching 40 percent.[9] According to available data, nearly half of African countries possess proven reserves of natural gas, making the African continent home to approximately 9 percent of the world’s total gas reserves, and a producer of about 6 percent.[10] African gas is the fastest growing energy source in the world. Its production increased at a rate of 4.2 percent annually between 2011 and 2019.[11] In 2022, total natural gas production in Africa increased by 3.43 percent compared to 2021. Energy companies operating on the continent are seeking to develop new liquefied natural gas production plants, with a production capacity of 87 million tons per year until 2035. This means an increase in the production capacity of current LNG stations by 116 percent.[12]

Africa’s gas reserves were estimated at more than 17.56 trillion cubic meters in 2021;[13] equivalent to almost half of Russia’s known gas reserves (37.4 trillion cubic meters), according to 2020 estimates.[14] Most of the reserves are concentrated in the north of the continent (Libya, Algeria, and Egypt) and in the West (Nigeria, Angola, the Republic of the Congo, and Gabon). Nigeria has the largest reserves of natural gas in the African continent, with estimates of 5.6 trillion cubic meters.[15]

In terms of oil, some international companies reducing efforts to develop oil resources in Africa, such as BP, Exxon Mobil, and Shell. This has coincided with the decline of the African continent’s share of global oil production from 12.3 percent in 2010 to 10 percent in 2022. But many international companies are still competing for oil discoveries on the continent.[16] This is mainly because more than a third of Africa’s gas production is gas associated with oil.[17] Therefore, these companies seek to add about 15.8 billion barrels of oil to their production quota by 2030.[18] Crude oil production in Africa is estimated at about 10 million barrels per day,[19] which is approximately the level of Saudi Arabian production,[20] with the continent’s known oil reserves estimated at about 12 percent of the global total.[21] While Libya has the largest share oil reserves in the continent at about 48.36 billion barrels of oil, it is closely followed by Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and Angola. Together these countries constitute about 85 percent of the oil reserves in the continent.[22]

The Significance of the Latest Discoveries

West Africa is a major hub for recent oil and gas discoveries. It accounts for 60 percent of discoveries within the past five years on the continent, with total natural gas discoveries estimated at about 50 trillion cubic feet.[23] In May 2017, BP, in cooperation with the US company Kosmos Energy, revealed an important discovery off the coast of Senegal, estimated at 15 trillion cubic feet of gas.[24] In 2019, research by the Italian company Eni revealed the presence of significant quantities of gas in Ghana, estimated at between 550 and 650 billion cubic feet.[25] In 2021, BW Energy announced important discoveries in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire through Eni, with preliminary estimates indicating that these include between 1.5 and 2 billion barrels of oil, alongside between 1.8 and 2.4 trillion cubic feet of gas.[26] Meanwhile, since the first oil discovery in Niger in 2011, the country has witnessed a wave of oil and gas discoveries. From 2011-2019, Niger’s energy sector injected more than USD 2 billion into the national economy. Niger seeks to raise its oil production from the current 20,000 barrels to 110,000 barrels per day by the end of 2023, but it is unclear how these plans will be affected in the future by developments following the military coup in the country in late July 2023. The known reserves of oil equal about 3.8 billion barrels, while gas reserves are estimated at about 34 billion cubic metres.[27]

Some international energy companies have explored the offshore basins of countries that do not have a history of oil and gas production in the West African region, based on expectations of huge energy reserves. In September 2022, the Canadian oil company Zenith Energy submitted an offer to the Republic of Benin to obtain an oil and gas exploration license in an offshore field.[28] In 2017, the French company TotalEnergies signed a contract with the government of Guinea to explore for oil and gas off its coast, expecting this to play a role in reshaping the energy sector in the West African country.[29] In 2021, Guinea-Bissau allowed a number of international energy companies to start exploratory drilling for oil and gas in 11 offshore areas.[30] In April 2023, the Liberia Petroleum Regulatory Authority stated that ExxonMobil had applied for exploratory drilling for four potential offshore oil blocks in Liberia.[31] It is expected that Mauritania will also witness important developments in this field. Following the exploratory operations carried out by US, British and French companies since 2019, Mauritania's extractable natural gas reserves have been calculated as 100 trillion cubic feet, which could put it 7th in Africa in terms of gas reserves.[32]

To the south, Namibia has emerged in the last two years as a promising host of gas and oil discoveries. In February 2022, Total Energies and Qatar Energy Company made an important discovery of light oil and associated gas in the “Venus” area located in the “2913B” block, which covers more than 8,000 square kilometres of deep water in Namibia.[33] This was preceded in January 2022 by Shell announcing that it had found large quantities of oil and gas in the “Grav-1” exploration well.[34] Namibia has reserves estimated at 11 billion barrels of oil and 2.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.[35]

Likewise, East Africa is witnessing important energy discoveries. For example, Mozambique, which ranks third in Africa in terms of known gas reserves, behind Nigeria and Algeria, is expected to become one of the top ten gas exporters worldwide.[36] Tanzania has also recorded important new discoveries in oil and gas, with known reserves of natural gas rising to more than 57 trillion cubic feet.[37] Although late to exploit the gas, first discovered in 1974, due to political and legal obstacles, its production of natural gas reached about 110 billion cubic feet annually at the end of 2017.[38] Focusing on the oil and gas sector, Tanzania aims to achieve an estimated annual production of 10 million tons of LNG per year.[39] Although Ethiopia placed among the bottom ten countries worldwide in terms of oil reserves until the end of 2022, a recent study has revealed the possibility of large reserves in Warra IIuu, in the Abay Basin in Amhara, estimated at more than 2 billion barrels of oil.[40] In addition, approximately 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and oil is estimated to exist in the Ethiopian Ogaden Basin. According to experts, Uganda's total reserves are estimated at 6 billion barrels of oil, of which 1.4 billion barrels are recoverable, paving the way for this country to be an oil producer in East Africa.[41] In 2019, Kenya exported its first shipment of crude oil (a modest 200 thousand barrels), becoming the second country in East Africa to join the oil exporting countries after South Sudan. Initial estimates indicate that there are more than 4 billion barrels of extractable oil in Kenya.[42]

Conclusion

Although interest in Africa's gas and oil wealth preceded the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the conflict increased demand for energy sources on the African continent, whose proximity to Europe gives it an advantage over energy producing regions elsewhere. This increased interest will likely transform Africa into an important player in the global energy market as discoveries on the continent grow, without detracting from the importance of the rest of the players, especially in the Gulf region, whose countries together remain the largest energy producer in the world. However, increased interest in African energy sources will lead, in turn, to the intensification of political conflicts, which may take on a tribal or ethnic character in some cases, as well as competition between companies and countries over resources, especially as geopolitical competition heats up between global powers interested in the continent and its wealth (the countries of southern Europe, especially France, in addition to Russia, China, and the United States). This may have implications for the security and stability of these countries, with the Sahel region providing an example of what to expect after suffering coups, power struggles, and huge territorial losses to extremist groups.


[1] Acha Leke, Peter Gaius-Obaseki, & Oliver Onyekweli, “The future of African oil and gas: Positioning for the energy transition,” McKinsey & Company, 8/6/2022, accessed on 3/8/2023, at: https://rebrand.ly/716916

[2] Jason Mitchell, “Stick or twist: the future of African oil and gas,” Offshore Technology, 1/9/2022, accessed on 2/8/2023, at: https://rebrand.ly/ttdwkvu

[3] “Energy Information Administration,” accessed in 3/8/2023, at: https://rebrand.ly/hytwy2j

[4] Mitchell.

[5] Melisa Cavcic, “Africa turning into hotspot for oil & gas exploration as investments reach $5.1 bln in 2022,” Offshore Energy, 2/12/2022, accessed on 7/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/22d95wrt

[6] Ibid.

[7] Leke, Gaius-Obaseki & Onyekweli,

[8] Ibid.

[9] Charlie Mitchell, “Africa’s New Extraction Maths: Less Oil, more Gas,” FDI Intelligence, 27/2/2023, accessed on 10/9/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/5bnf9e2c

[10] “Natural Gas in Africa: Why Fossil Fuels Cannot Sustainably Meet the Continent’s Growing Energy Demand,” Climate Action Tracker, May 2022, accessed on 2/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/y2xfnp3b

[11] Mitchell, “Africa’s New Extraction Maths.”

[12] Cavcic.

[13] Chukwumerije Okereke & Youba Sokona, “Africa Has Vast Gas Reserves – Here’s How to Stop Them Adding to Climate Change,” The Conversation, 15/11/2022, accessed on 2/8/2023, at: https://rebrand.ly/1m0nl6i

[14] “Statistical Review of World Energy,” British Petroleum, 2021, p. 34, accessed on 2/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/4s8r6xju

[15] Mitchell, “Stick or Twist: The Future of African Oil and Gas.”

[16] Cavcic; Mitchell, “Africa’s New Extraction Maths.”

[17] Leke, Gaius-Obaseki & Onyekweli,

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Oil and Gas Programme,” African Union, accessed on 3/8/2023, at: https://rebrand.ly/366d04n

[20] “Saudi Arabia Crude Oil: Production,” CEIC Data, accessed on 3/8/2023, at: https://rebrand.ly/42f4a4

[21] “Oil and Gas Programme.”

[22] “Our work in Africa,” United Nations, accessed on 2/8/2023, at: https://rebrand.ly/2dd0b6

[23] Elliot Connor, “8 West African Oil and Gas Discoveries to Watch,” Energy Capital and Power, 3/8/2022, accessed on 10/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/4m8xev7c

[24] Matthew Goosen, “Ten Major Oil and Gas Discoveries in North, West and East Africa,” Energy Capital & Power, 20/7/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/m6md5py8

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Vilena Chakarova, “The Niger coup... Will it turn the energy dreams of the African coast into a nightmare? (Article),” translated by Muhammad Abdel-Sanad, Energy, 11/8/2023, accessed on 13/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/39badptp

[28] Melisa Cavcic, “Offer Put Forward for ‘Largest and Most Prospective Oilfield’ in Benin,” Offshore Energy, 22/9/2022, accessed on 13/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/3es9cutk

[29] “Guinea: Total Reinforces its Exploration in West Africa,” TotalEnergies, 10/9/2017, accessed on 13/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/2cpjv8cy

[30] Jasser Hammami, “Offshore Exploration: The Future of Guinea-Bissau’s Energy Sector,” Energy Capital & Power, 22/7/2021, accessed on 13/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/ywkxbweu; Miguel Artacho, “Guinea-Bissau, Boosting Oil & Gas and Industry Development While Promoting Local Content,” Energy Capital & Power, 7/10/2021, accessed on 13/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/4wdckcvv

[31] “Liberia Says Exxon Applied for Four Offshore Oil Blocks,” Reuters, 24/4/2023, accessed on 13/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/ycky5fpk

[32] Dina Qadri, “Mauritania is preparing to produce LNG before the end of 2023... an official reveals developments,” Attaqa, 14/2/2023, accessed on 13/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/bddwshv2

[33] Ahmed Shawqi, “Gas discoveries in Africa during 2023... promising opportunities for Algeria and Egypt,” Attaqa, 20/3/2023, accessed on 12/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/4wk9kr44

[34] Ibid.

[35] Mai Magdy, “Qatar Energy and Total Energy make an oil discovery off the coast of Namibia,” Attaqa, 24/2/2022, accessed on 12/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/v6fe427b

[36] Asmaa El Saadawi, “Gas discovery in Mozambique by an African company,” Attaqa, 11/5/2023, accessed on 10/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/44j9wvpu

[37] “Tanzania Makes Big Onshore Natural Gas Discovery - local Newspapers,” Reuters, 25/2/2016, accessed on 12/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/253zj4z6

[38] Ahmed Shawqi, “Tanzania... Samia Hassan is leading a revolution in the oil and gas sector,” Attaqa, 16/5/2021, accessed on 12/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/y3nddfvk

[39] Ibid

[40] “Ethiopia announces the presence of huge oil reserves in the Amhara region,” Attaqa, 18/1/2023, accessed on 12/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/mrwknutd

[41] Ibid

[42] “Oil and Gas Exploration History in Kenya,” National Oil Corporation of Kenya, accessed on 13/8/2023, at: https://tinyurl.com/mwh8mavk