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[Event] Ethiopia Expands Efforts to Survey Hydrocarbon Resources

October 2022
East Africa is quickly emerging as one of the premier destinations for oil and natural gas exploration, with numerous foreign companies engaged in exploratory and extractive ventures in countries like Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Mozabique, and Uganda. This new boom in the oil industry, driven by growing global demands and new investments from rising powers like China, has already made several significant oil discoveries, including the 560 million barrel oil find in Turkana, Kenya.
So far, Ethiopia's own share of this East African hydrocarbon rush has been something of a mixed bag. Early speculation regarding Ethiopia's oil reserves--which suggested that the country may have some 2.7 billion barrels of oil hidden away in its southern provinces--has so far failed to materialize into concrete finds, with Tullow Oil (the firm responsible for the Turkana find) failing to find any productive wells in the South Omo Block. Tullow remained in Africa until 2018, when it and partner Africa Oil began the process of withdrawing their operations in the South Omo Block. For a time, it seemed like the promise of hydrocarbon reserves in Ethiopia was dead, with investors looking to proven exploration markets in Uganda and Kenya instead.
And then, payday. In 2018/19, Chinese oil and gas firm Poly-GCL announced the discovery of some 7 to 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas at the Calub and Hilala gas fields in Blocks 11 and 15, which was quickly followed by British firm NewAGE's discovery of 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas near Elkuran in Block 8. These discoveries, amounting to some 272km3 of gas and a smaller quantity of oil, were significant not just for their size (between these two discoveries alone, Ethiopia gained enough natural gas reserves to surpass current gas exporters like Israel, Bangladesh, and Brunei), but as proof that there were hydrocarbon resources in Ethiopia (which drew attention from firms that previously had not invested in exploration in Ethiopia, including oil giant Chevron in late 2019. Ethiopia and Djibouti immediately teamed up to build a 760km+ pipeline connecting these gas fields in the Ogaden basin to the Red Sea. Revenues from the export of natural gas, which started in 2022 with the completion of the pipeline, are expected to amount to some 1b USD annually (increasing as more projects are drilled), bringing a critical influx of FOREX to the Ethiopian government.
With the first exports of Ethiopian hydrocarbon reaching international markets, and with historic oil finds in neighboring Eritrea, Ethiopia is hoping to leverage the possibility of further finds to attract additional investment into its hydrocarbon sector. At present, Ethiopia has several concession blocks that still lack investment, which the government is hoping to rectify by offering exploration rights to international hydrocarbon firms.
South Omo Block
With Tullow's withdrawal from Ethiopia in 2019 after failing to renew their license, the oil concession for the South Omo Block is once again up for licensing. Located in southern Ethiopia along the South Sudan and Kenya borders, the South Omo Block is a geological continuation of the Turkana basin and other major East African hydrocarbon blocks, leading many to speculate that it may share in some of that oil wealth. While the initial estimates that the block may hold up to 2.7 billion barrels of oil seem to have been overstated, if the block contains even a fraction of that amount, it would still be considerably valuable for whomever takes the block.
The Poly-GCL Blocks
Chinese firm Poly-GCL is easily the largest hydrocarbon operator in Ethiopia, owning the extraction rights for the bulk of the new discoveries (7-8 TCF of the total 9.6 TCF). With their ten total exploration blocks in the Ogaden basin, they also have the greatest presence in the region. However, only two of the ten blocks under the license have been properly explored, with the remaining eight awaiting further exploration. Ethiopia is hoping to reach out to Poly-GCL to persuade them to begin exploration activities in the remaining eight (as well as any other blocks they feel like leasing), with the goal of discovering my natural gas or oil.
The Remaining Ogaden Basin Blocks
Out of the 21 blocks in the Ogaden Basin (the site of the most recent natural gas finds), seven are still unlicensed and more or less unexplored, Blocks 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 10, and 14. Ethiopia hopes to attract foreign firms to begin exploration in these blocks. They are more likely to contain natural gas than oil, as indicated by the discovery of natural gas in blocks 7, 11, and 15, but natural gas is still valuable and desirable.
Adigala Block
The Adigala Block is viewed as an extension of the oil-bearing geological formations of Somaliland, which oil exploration firm Genel anticipates to contain at least 2 billion barrels of oil. Genel previously expressed interest in moving into the Adigala Block, but as of 2019, it was NewAGE, the same firm that made the Elkuran find in Block 8, that entered into license negotiations with the Ethiopian government.
Ethiopia is hoping to finalize license negotiations for the Adigala Block, which Ethiopia hopes will contain some amount of oil, similar to the neighboring oil seeps in Somalia.
Amhara Blocks
The blocks in Amhara state are some of the least explored in the country. Neighboring blocks AB1, AB4, and AB7, operated by Falcon, reported some crude oil finds around 2018, which Ethiopia is hoping will attract additional exploration and investment in the remaining six blocks of the region.
North West Oil Shale
The Ethiopia-Eritrea border is home to some 3.9 billion tons of oil shale--enough to produce a staggering trillion barrels of oil, if it can ever be economically extracted. So far, there has been very little investigation into the viability of these resources, owing to low oil prices in the world. However, with production costs set to continue dropping over the foreseeable future with technological advances in extraction, and with Ethiopia's demand for oil set to grow astronomically as the country's economic development continues, Ethiopia is hoping that some segment of this oil shale can be economically developed. As such, Ethiopia has invited oil shale leaders from around the world, most notably Canadian, Chinese, Estonian, and American firms, to invest in oil shale extraction in northern Ethiopia.
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