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Multi-Billion Dollar Opportunities in Cross-Border Cooperation for Oil and Natural Gas Projects in Southern Africa (By NJ Ayuk)

By NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman, African Energy Chamber(www.EnergyChamber.org)

Advocacy is one of my greatest priorities as the founder of the African Energy Chamber (AEC). For years, I have been making a case for the growth of Africa's energy industry by shining a light on the harsh realities of energy poverty across the continent, demonstrating the need for African industrialization, stressing the importance of establishing political and economic climates that are attractive to foreign investment, and so on.

While our advocacy efforts are far from over, I am pleased to note the many positive developments in the sub-Saharan regions that now motivate me to spotlight certain emergent opportunities and a strategic approach to capitalizing on them.

At present, considering the number of promising energy projects currently under way and the numerous trade opportunities arising, from natural gas production in particular, I am compelled to emphasize the need for cross-border cooperation among all the nations and producers involved in these efforts, which will be vital if we are to achieve true prosperity throughout the continent.

Africa's Current Natural Gas Landscape

As detailed in Standard Bank's recently released strategic discussion document, "South African Gas Optionality," Africa holds natural gas in abundance, both onshore and off, accounting for more than 7% of the world's proven natural gas reserves. While Algeria, Egypt, and Nigeria together can take claim to more than 80% of Africa's gas production per 2020 estimates, these figures are rapidly evolving, and much of the gas industry's attention is redirecting further south to Namibia, South Africa, inland to Zimbabwe, and to the east in Tanzania and Mozambique, which is home to the continent's third largest store of natural gas.

African gas production rates are also on the rise, and forecasts indicate this movement will continue for decades to come. African gas output volumes have grown by 70% since the year 2000 and, as outlined in Standard Bank's report, should continue to grow to 2050, reaching a yearly output of approximately 520 billion cubic meters (bcm.)

The report also notes that with these relative newcomers to the African natural gas economy paired up with the more established producers in Nigeria, Senegal, and Mauritania in the west and with Algeria and Egypt covering northern Africa, practically the entire perimeter of the African continent could have liquefied natural gas (LNG) operations for the purposes of domestic use or export as early as 2027.

Factoring in Africa's current LNG capacity of 72 million tonnes per annum (MTPA), the number of LNG facilities either in operation or advanced development, and the supportive role small-scale LNG (SSLNG) operators will play going forward, the report estimates that Africa's capacity should increase by roughly 69 MTPA in the future.

Cross-Border Cooperation Opportunities Abound

People may respect man-made borders, but fossil resources certainly do not.

Hydrocarbons accumulated beneath the Earth's crust irrespective of where one nation or another decided their boundaries should be. However, the tendency of natural gas deposits to span borders – inherent to their location, size, and distribution – has, in many cases, already promoted international cooperation around the globe. Where extraction was the concern, neighboring nations have amicably negotiated operational territories, and it's no different in Africa. But when it comes to the feasibility of transportation, domestic distribution, and export, intra-African cooperation is more nuanced than merely the location of gas fields relative to borders.

Developing an effective and prosperous natural gas infrastructure and distribution network will require an earnest commitment to collaboration among nations. Conveniently, as illustrated in "South African Gas Optionality," potential cross-border partnerships literally crisscross Africa's southernmost region.

Pipelines running from Lusaka, Zambia to floating storage regasification units (FSRUs) in either Lobito, Angola, or Walvis Bay, Namibia, could centrally connect with another running along the new TAZAMA refined product pipeline, which links Ndola, Zambia, to the active natural gas operations and the Coral floating LNG (FLNG) operation under development south of the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Further south in Mozambique, the rail network connecting Nacala to Lusaka, with stops in Malawi at Blantyre and Lilongwe, along with Chipata, Zambia, offers an inland transportation route. With SSLNG trucking support, the connected railway from Beira to Lusaka with stops at Harare and Zave brings Zimbabwe into the fold, accommodating Invictus Energy's recent promising finds in the Cabora Bassa Basin and completing Mozambique's rail and SSLNG value chain.

Along the very active coastline of South Africa, a potential pipeline could run from East London, near the proposed site for Coega's gas-to-power infrastructure, to the existing refineries at Mossel Bay and Cape Town. From there, the pipeline could connect with a potential FSRU at Saldanha before continuing on through the offshore Orange Basin sites and terminating at a future LNG facility at Elizabeth Bay in Namibia.

A Complex but Rewarding Cooperative

To see improvement in the quality of life for Africans across the continent, Africa must stay the course toward industrialization, and natural gas should be a significant driver in that regard.

Despite how environmental activists and Western powers shudder at the idea of an industrialized Africa, when faced with their own energy crisis brought on by the Russia-Ukraine war and the sabotage of the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline, the European Union was quick to designate natural gas as a climate-friendly fuel source. And they're right to do so. As mentioned in "South African Gas Optionality," the carbon emissions of a fully industrialized and electrified Africa would likely never exceed 4% of global emissions. Not only is natural gas the cleanest burning fossil fuel, but it is also Africa's ticket out of energy poverty.

Through the production, domestic distribution, and export of natural gas, as well as gas-to-power initiatives, Africa will become healthier and wealthier and capable of building the alternative energy infrastructure that will eventually render our reliance on fossil fuels obsolete. On a reasonable timeline, Africa will follow the developed world in powering itself via a combination of wind, solar, and green hydrogen, but none of this will come to pass unless we work together.

As evidenced by the intricacies of just some of the proposed projects among the southern African nations and considering the numerous other projects under way or in development throughout the rest of the continent, cross-border cooperation will be imperative if we are to tack a happy ending onto the great African energy success story.

With initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), individual nations will be able to trade in goods, resources, and services more easily, and workers will be able to cross borders freely, adding manpower to projects outside their home country. Once the AfCFTA is fully implemented, I'm confident it will facilitate intra-African trade, bring any disputes to a resolution, and speed up commerce where it was once slowed by tariffs and other bureaucratic barriers, but we can always do more.

The nations of Africa need to unify in mindset and mission if we are to become a global energy powerhouse. This is, of course, in no way a call for a redrawing of boundaries, an erasure of national identities, or the capitulation of smaller nations to wealthier ones, but we must increase the frequency and volume at which we work with one another. Every African government, indigenous company, and individual citizen should cultivate the idea that we are also one people working together to profitably supply the world around us while improving conditions at home.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of African Energy Chamber.
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