afrol News, 16 March - Russia's powerful oil and gas company Gazprom has announced its first operation in Africa, starting to drill a prospecting well in Algeria's Berkine basin. A deeper Algerian-Russian cooperation could lead to a joint control of most of Europe's large natural gas market.
Gazprom's entrance in Algeria and Africa was announced in a statement by the private-public company, which is the largest natural gas producer in the world and also Russia's largest company.
The company now has "commenced drilling of the first prospecting well (Rhourde Sayah-2) in Africa within the El Assel license area of Algeria's Berkine basin," the statement said. Gazprom is hoping to find commercial quantities of natural gas in the well. The El Assel license block is located in the Berkine Basin, 500 kilometres south of Algiers and 150 kilometres from the town of Hassi Messaoud – a gas production centre.
Gazprom EP International is operator of the said project in partnership with the Algerian State Oil and Gas Corporation Sonatrach. Gazprom and Sonatrach hold a 49 and a 51 percent stakes in the project.
Meanwhile, Gazprom also announced it was carrying out "large-scale 3D seismic surveying in other parts of the license area." According to preliminary estimates, drilling of the first well was to be completed in June 2010 and another three wells are to be drilled within 2 years, according to the company.
Algeria's proven natural gas reserves account for 4.5 trillion cubic meters. This is second-largest in Africa after Nigeria, which has proven reserves of 5.15 trillion cubic meters. The bulk of Algeria's natural gas reserves are concentrated in the central and eastern parts of the country.
Gazprom has been present in Algeria since 2006, when the Russian company signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Sonatrach. The document identified the several key areas for cooperation deepening, including geological exploration, production, transmission, gas transport and distribution system development, asset swaps, processing and marketing of oil and natural gas in Algeria, Russia and in third countries.
Russia and Algeria are, together with Norway, the main sources for natural gas in Europe, a major energy source for households and the industry. During the last years, Europe's dependence on Russian gas imports has become increasingly controversial as Moscow has used its control over the resource to pressurise neighbours such as Ukraine.
A possible alliance between Russia and Algeria regarding gas prices and gas exports has caused concern in the European Union (EU), which is seeking to diversify its energy imports and lessen its dependence of Russia.
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