Date: Wed, 1 Sep 1999 22:44:29 -0500 (CDT)
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Petroleum Reserves Dwindle
By Antoine Lawson, IPS, 31 August 1999
LIBREVILLE, Aug 31 (IPS) - The eight multi-national oil companies operating in Gabon discovered no new deposits in 1998, although massive exploration was undertaken last year.
Gabon, which is heavily dependent on petroleum revenues, is trying to reform its mining codes to attract new investment.
A vast expanse of area is currently under exploration. Initially, it comprised 125,557 square kilometers, 46,073 on-shore and 84,835 off-shore. The increase in the number of permits granted has meant that now oil is being looked for in an area covering 220,000 square kilometres.
The petroleum industry in Gabon has been handicapped by fluctuations in the exchange rate of the dollar and a drop in the oil price, which has just recently begun to take off again.
Elf Gabon's director general, Jean-Pierre Cordier, describes Gabon, which produces about 18,000 tonnes of crude oil per annum, as a country over-explored.
"More than 700 oil wells were dug on land since the beginning of the petroleum industry in Gabon (in the 1960s). Today, we're having trouble finding new deposits and setting them up for extraction", he says.
Jean-Marie Gavalda, director general of the French group, Elf Aquitaine, adds, "Gabon is a country where today, exploration in very difficult. In 1998, there were many test drills but few satisfactory outcomes".
As a result, only a few petroleum companies are taking the risk of venturing into oceanic oil exploration.
"The technology used in offshore drilling is costly and disappointing", Cordier says. "I don't think that companies will be rushing into this type of exploration. Very deep drilling is required, and even if you find a huge deposit, it'll take at least ten years to develop it for extraction and will not generate any income for Gabon during that time".
Off-shore exploration still arouses some hope, but few companies appear willing to risk drilling beyond 2,000 metres. Last year, Gabon awarded rights to 13 exploration zones, where drilling can go beyond 2,000 metres.
"Anything offshore, between 200 and 2000 metres deep, has been available for exploration for years now in Gabon. However, it's proving to be a disappointment. Only oceanic exploration between 0 and 200 metres has yielded some promise", Cordier explains.
"I don't think that we can hope for, in this 0 to 200 metre ocean zone, any big discoveries. We can continue to hope, but not for anything big. Exploration in the 200 to 2000 metre zone turned out to be disappointing too, because we didn't find anything very significant", he adds.
More than 60 percent of Gabon's resources come from petroleum. Today, the country has found itself in an unprecedented economic situation. Foreign debt is estimated at almost 3000 billion CFA francs and domestic debt has just gone down, from 600 to 400 billion CFA francs.
One US Dollar is equal to 562 CFA francs.
A major reduction in petroleum reserves would plunge the central African country of 1.4 million people into chaos. The petroleum companies and the government are pinning their hopes right now on new lodes of oil being discovered.(END/IPS/al/nrn/sz/mn/99)
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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