Kenyans Cross Their Fingers As Company Searches for Oil

The Nation (Nairobi)
December 25, 2006
Posted to the web December 26, 2006

By Sarah Kimani

The country's hopes of striking oil rests with 145 workers prospecting for it at the Kenyan coast.

The engineers, geologists and marine experts are searching for oil while on a ship off the Lamu Coast.

Kenya's hopes of striking oil rest with 145 Australian firm employees prospecting for the mineral at the Coast.

The search has started at the Pomboo One well near the Kiunga Marine National Reserve, 135 kilometres north east of Lamu.

The Woodside Energy workers are drawn from Japan, Canada, United States and Europe.

Due to lack of expertise on oil drilling, there are only three Kenyans on the ship; Navy officer Eliud Keter, maritime security advisor Conrad Thorpe, and drilling engineer trainee Chris Kipchumba.

Members of the Kenya Navy provide security and surveillance services.

The drilling is conducted for 24 hours and workers in the ship are divided into two shifts each working 12 hours.

This is the first search for DV Chikyu, said to be bigger than the legendary Titanic.

All crew members spend 28 days on the vessel and break for a similar period.

The fully computerised ship has digital cameras that monitor every step of the drilling.

Good sign

The vessel is believed to be the most advanced drilling ship.

The Austrarian firm's general manager Alex Taylor says with a 12 per cent chance of striking oil, Kenya should count itself lucky noting that in the industry, that was a good sign.

He, however, cautioned Kenyans that even if the resource is found, its production would take longer because they would have to assess its commercial viability.

"If we discover oil, we will inform the Kenyan Government and Kenyans, but we will have to see if the amount we find is economically worth before starting production," adds Mr Taylor.

He further notes that there are high risks in the oil business and that billions of shillings invested in the project may go to waste if the company does not discover oil or gas at the Coast.

On completion of the drill at Pomboo One, the vessel will sail to Sokwe, the second well about 180 kilometres to north east of Malindi.

Oil exploration in Kenya has been dormant for over 25 years although it is regarded as the most prospective part of the East African off shore area, due to what experts term as a diverse geology that could hold significant gas and oil resources.

"When we began work at Mauritania, chances stood at about eight per cent and now their taps are flowing. Kenya's chances are higher but there is also a high chance of failure," said the general manager.

Woodside Energy has exploration interests in 12 countries globally.

In Africa, the Australian company has been searching for oil in Libya for three years and says the the North African country presents a lucrative market.

The firm also operates in Sierra Leone, Comoros Island, Algeria and Mauritania.

Environmentalists had raised concern that the exploration in the Indian Ocean may damage marine life and pollute the environment, but the company said it had complied with requirements by the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema).

It said that the environmental regulator had appraised at every stage of its activities.

Says Mr Taylor: "We have submitted a comprehensive impact assessment report to Nema and our activities have little risk of environmental impact on marine life and plants during exploration."

Kenyans will be informed about all money earned from oil wealth if talks initiated with a petroleum prospector succeed.

Made public

The Government has started talks with Woodside Energy on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative that would ensure revenue received from oil wealth is made public.

Under the initiative, Kenyans would also be consulted on how the money would be spent.

We are very keen on becoming signatories to this initiative even before we strike oil, National Oil Corporation of Kenya managing director Mary M'Mukindia told the Nation.

She said 20 countries have signed into the deal and Kenya sees this as the best way to break the oil curse that has led to the loss of lives in many African countries.

"The advantage that we have as a country is that we are already thinking of how to deal with the oil dollars even before we get oil," Mrs M'Mukindia said.

With four companies having pitched tent in the country searching for oil, a number of Kenyans have expressed fear that the Government may short-change them once the mineral is found.

"Issues of equitable distribution of resources are very sensitive and that is why many countries break into civil wars whenever oil is found," Mrs M'Mukindia adds.

Already, the Finance ministry has formed a committee chaired by investment secretary Esther Koimett to advise Kenyans on how funds from the mineral, if found, can be invested.

It comprises members from the oil corporation, Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, and the ministries of Justice and Energy .

The Australian company began the drilling in the Indian Ocean on December 2.

Since coming to the country, the firm's officials have held talks with over 250 government, non governmental and community organisations at the coast to enlighten them about the exploration.

Sharing wealth

"We have held barazas with Sheikhs, Imams, local authorities, fishermen, women's' groups and Members of Parliament. We want every Kenyan to know just what we are doing," adds Mr Taylor.

During their meetings it emerged that most Coast residents had doubts on the sharing of the oil wealth.

"There is fear that the Government will not share in the oil wealth. The residents have been pointing out cases in Nigeria where oil is mainly seen as a curse, saying there are better off without it," Mr Taylor added.

"We have, however, assured them that it really does not have to be that way," he adds.

The Japanese vessel is expected to take at least 45 days in each of the two wells where the search would be conducted.

"We believe that we can assess the potential of oil through the drilling of just two wells," notes Mr Taylor.