The league of African natural gas producers—where one country is set to turn regional industry on its head

Just 15 countries on the continent have any natural gas to speak of, but recent finds are set to shake the billion-dollar industry

LAST week Egypt discovered a huge natural gas field off its coast—the largest ever find in the Mediterranean sea.

Its finder, Italy’s Eni, said the “super” deep water prospect may hold 30 trillion cubic feet of fuel. (Last year, the US used about 26.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—which accounted for nearly a third of its total energy use.)

Egypt, a former exporter-turned-importer due to rising domestic demand and reduced exploration following recent political unrest, has said it would keep all the gas for itself. It could potentially save the country an $2 billion import bill.

The field is expected to be at a “significant level” by 2019, according to London consultant Energy Aspects Ltd/

With consumption seen surpassing domestic demand by 2020, Egypt could then start exporting a product that has wide uses globally both in industry and the home, and of which it produced 2 trillion cubic feet last year.

It is a find that will shake up the increasingly vibrant African natural gas market, which has seen big finds in recent years in a raft of countries and which threaten to upset the natural order. The continent’s proven reserves are only second to Eurasia—a region that counts Russia in its sphere.

We take a look at the major players on the continent, where in 2013 six of the top 10 global discoveries in oil and gas were made.

Algeria

Currently Africa’s largest gas producer, according to the US Energy Information Administration, the North African country produced 2.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2013, for when the most recent data is available.

It was however an 8.5% dip on 2012 production, while its highest output over the last 10 years was in 2005, when production  peaked at 3.15 trillion cubic feet. It currently has Africa’s largest proven reserves, at 159.1 trillion cubic feet.

Last week the energy ministry said it would invest $40 billion to raise output by 13% by 2019, despite the cautious global environment. Energy revenues from gas and oil make up to 60% of its budget, and 95% of exports.

Nigeria

With the continent’s highest level of proven reserves at 180 trillion cubic feet, it is currently Africa’s third largest producer of natural gas, with a 2013 output of 1.36 trillion cubic feet. This was a 10% fall on the year before, when output reached its highest ever level.

It has been an upward trajectory—just 440 billion cubic feet of gas produced in 2000, but pipeline losses due to thefts and leaks continue to be a major concern, due to resulting major shutdowns, the most recent of which came two weeks ago. 

The Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company Limited (NLNG), a joint venture between the government and foreign oil majors,  in June said it has generated some $85 billion from exports since its inception15 years ago. However, the lack of infrastructure is said to cost the country up to $5 billion annually.

Libya

The North African country has remained Africa’s fourth largest producer despite the political unrest of the last five years. But production halved in 2012 immediately after the revolution, to reach 277 billion cubic feet, levels last seen ten years earlier. In 2011, the country attained its highest ever production of 577 billion cubic feet. 

Output is now up to 424 billion cubic feet last year, and further gains will depend on the resolution of its current political crisis, where two rival governments have been vying for power.

Equatorial Guinea

The oil-rich country has in recent years ramped up production with the 243 billion cubic feet produced in 2013 the central African country’s highest ever output. It has been rapid—in 2000 the country produced just 1 billion cubic feet of the gas, but is now fast coming up Libya’s rear-view mirror.

Mozambique

But all these countries could be blown out of the water by Mozambique, which is due to give state consent to a natural gas project that is said to be the largest gas discovery in a decade.

As much as 75 trillion cubic feet of gas are thought to lie off Mozambique’s Area 1 prospect run by US-based oil and gas producer Anadarko—and which would make the country a top three global gas exporter in the next 10 years, after only Qatar and Australia.

It is thought to be worth $15 billion and could supply about 15 years of US residential demand. Anadarko last month said it has found buyers, and also would-be financiers of a mooted plant, even in a market where demand has slowed, and which the US is set to further roil with more production from its booming shale industry.

Still, it would be an economy-changing turn in fortunes for the southern Africa country, which last year produced only 152 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

Recently, a report by McKinsey consulting suggested struggling South Africa seeks imports from the country to meet its crippling energy deficit.

Tanzania

Tanzania last year produced 35 billion cubic feet of natural gas—its highest ever. But its off-shore reserves, newly-found, are now estimated at 55.1 trillion cubic feet

The first finds were made in 2010, but 90% are out to sea, raising extraction costs.

Showing how the political uncertainty affects energy production, gas plans are said to be waiting for clarity ahead of a general election next month. Last month outgoing president Jakaya Kikwete  signed key laws related to gas, which the opposition has rejected. 

Production could start as late as 2025, while the country is planning a $15 billion export plant, with plans to ship out any surplus to neighbouring countries.    

Others

Africa’s other producers are Angola, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Morocco, Tunisia and South Africa.  But none currently produces more than 100 billion cubic feet, though in a golden year, South Africa in 2006 touched 102 billion cubic feet. In 2013, it produced less than half of that. 

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