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» 21.05.2009 - Spanish oil returns to Equatorial Guinea
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Equatorial Guinea | Gabon
Politics | Economy - Development

Increased oil exploration at Gabonese, Equatoguinean coast

afrol News, 13 July - International oil companies today announced new oil discoveries is Gabon's offshore Etame field. Meanwhile, authorities in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea recently announced that the promising area at the two countries' disputed maritime border soon is to be jointly explored. The UN is looking into the dispute over the Mbañie, Cocotiers and Congas islets.

The inner Gulf of Guinea is still yielding new and promising oil fields as exploration again intensifies in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. In particular for Gabon, whose oil production has been declining for five years, this is good news.

In Gabon, the increased interest for oil resources stemming from the Gulf of Guinea - in particular by US investors avoiding the Middle East - is already producing results. The two US oil companies PanOcean and Vaalco are frequently reporting on new oil wells and new discoveries. While they have activities onshore in Gabon, most new discoveries currently stem from the Etame oil field, offshore southern Gabon, close to the Congolese border.

PanOcean today announced that its EAVOM-1 well, offshore Gabon, has been "confirmed as an oil discovery following a drill stem test of the vertical well, which flowed 6,600 barrels oil per day." The EAVOM-1 well is located at Avouma, within the Etame Permit, approximately 16.5 kilometres south-east of the main Etame field, which is currently producing 15,000 barrels oil per day.

- Based on the information and analysis to date, PanOcean is of the view that Avouma is a commercial discovery, the company said in a statement today. "The Company will commence an engineering study to incorporate an Avouma development into the broader Etame production development scheme along with an additional development well in the main Etame pool," the statement added.

Total oil production from Etame is expected to increase to over 20,000 barrels of oil per day once the Etame-5H well is brought onstream. "Our exploration attentions now move onshore to a three well exploration and appraisal program scheduled to commence in mid August," said PanOcean President David Lyons.

Vaalco, which also is engaged on the Etame field, however yesterday said the company planned "to return to the Etame 5H development well in the Etame field." The US company expects to find more oil resources in unexplored parts of the richly yielding Gamba sandstone offshore southern Gabon.

The increased production at Etame may finally turn the declining tide of Gabon's oil production. However, an even greater impact on the nation's oil production is expected from the still unexplored border region with Equatorial Guinea - an area that has been disputed since Equatorial Guinea's independence from Spain in 1968.

The Bay of Corisco, between Gabon's capital Libreville and southern mainland Equatorial Guinea, is by oil experts seen as a highly promising exploration area. Known geological formations indicate the existence of hydrocarbons. This has been known since the 1960s, but territorial conflicts between the two countries have foiled further explorations.

In 1958, Spain fixed the maritime sovereignty of its colony, including that of Corisco Bay and the three uninhabited islets of Mbañie, Cocotiers and Congas. After independence, however, Gabon and the French oil company Elf-Aquitaine disputed the Equatoguinean claim over these islets, located south-east of the inhabited island of Corisco.

In 1972, Gabonese President Omar Bongo issued a decree including the islets into Gabonese territory. In 1983, Elf-Aquitaine and the Gabonese state oil company Petrogab started oil explorations in the disputed territory, despite Equatoguinean protests. In 1984, as Equatorial Guinea is admitted into the Franc CFA zone, there are rumours that Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema silently has accepted Gabonese activities in the area in exchange for the CFA.

Despite an on-and-off Gabonese occupation of the three islets, Equatorial Guinea however never has withdrawn its historical claim over Mbañie, Cocotiers and Congas. Oil explorations here ceased as discoveries were made in areas that are not disputed, as French-Equatoguinean ties became closer and as US oil companies started taking over the dominant role in exploring the region's resources.

Over the years, also the Libreville-Malabo relation has grown very friendly. This has culminated in an agreement earlier this year to let a UN mediator settle their territorial dispute.

On Tuesday last week, Presidents Bongo and Obiang went even a step further and announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding in the presence of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, saying the two neighbours would explore the area's oil resources jointly while they awaited the settlement by the UN mediator.

Thus, oil explorations in this last corner of the Golf of Guinea cost are soon to assume. If oil experts are right, this could mark the start of another golden age for Gabon's oil industry. For Equatorial Guinea, it could mean yet another increase in its steeply rising oil production - but probably at no better terms than in 1984, when Gabon dictated the terms for a revenue split for possible discoveries: 40 percent for the oil company (thus Elf-Aquitaine), 30 percent for Gabon and 30 percent for Equatorial Guinea.

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