- Since its peak in 2000, oil production in Congo Brazzaville has declined continuously, including the first six months of 2004. The bottom is however reached, according to a new report. Already in the second half of this year, oil production is "expected to rebound" as new Congolese fields finally come online.
According to the new, updated energy 'Country Analysis' on Congo Brazzaville, released yesterday by the US government agency Energy Information Administration (EIA), the tides are now turning in sub-Saharan Africa's fifth largest oil producer. "With increased interest in offshore West Africa and the development of new offshore oil fields, Congo Brazzaville is becoming increasingly important to world energy markets," the EIA analysis concludes.
Civil wars in the 1990s and a political chaos that is slowly coming to an end have had its role in Congo's declining oil production as explorations and foreign investments were halted. Congo Brazzaville has been an oil producer since 1957 and the nation's many mature fields by the end-1990s started to produce less. With the lack of new investments, total production start falling by end-2000.
At its peak so far, Congolese oil fields produced an average of 280,000 barrels of crudes per day in 2000. Crude production averaged dropped to 249,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2002 and to 247,000 bbl/d in the last quarter of 2003. According to the latest information available to EIA, in the first six months of this year, oil production had declined even more, now averaging 240,000 bbl/d.
This year, Congo Brazzaville lost its long-held position as sub-Saharan Africa's forth largest oil producer to Equatorial Guinea. Nigeria, Angola and Gabon are the region's major producers.
Congo may however by in a good position to re-conquer the regional forth place as oil production in Gabon is stagnating and major investments offshore Brazzaville are beginning to show results. Already during the second half of 2004, oil production is "expected to rebound when new fields come online and offset reduced output at more mature fields," according to the EIA update.
These new fields include Libondo, Tchibeli, Litanzi, and the Yanga-Sud fields, which are operated by Elf-Congo, a subsidiary of the multinational Total. Elf-Congo is reported to have invested an estimated US$ 240 million in these fields, where production could have started already in the end-1990s if investments had been possible at that time. Total, including its subsidiaries, is responsible for about 60 percent of Congo's total output.
Several exploration operations are also underway and these investments may secure further oil production growth in the future. In particular Total is developing and exploring on the large Haute Mer permit. The Moho field at this permit is already estimated to hold reserves of 400 million barrels of oil and the first oil is set to be produced from Moho in 2005.
Only the Moho estimated could increase Congo's oil production by an estimated 30 percent next year. Other minor companies have also reported new discoveries recently. In May 2004, Paris-based Maurel & Prom, announced the discovery of 250 million barrels of new reserves at the M'boundi field, which was to lead to production increases equalling 20 percent of national production by 2007.
Further, a new offshore region is yielding international investment and exploration interest. The Zone d'Interet Commun (ZIC, Common Interest Zone) between Congo Brazzaville and the Angolan exclave of Cabinda was created last year, offering favourable exploration and production conditions. ChevronTexaco and Total are already producing and exploring in the promising ZIC.
Oil already accounts for about 67 percent of Congo Brazzaville's real GDP - or about 78 percent of the government budget - and about 95 percent of Congo's export earnings, according to the World Bank. Following the large damages to onshore industries during the recent armed conflicts, the country's dependency on oil exports has increased lately.
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