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Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil

John Ghazvinian, Slate
Slate editor: The United States now imports more of its oil from Africa than it does from Saudi Arabia. How is oil and the money it brings to the continent’s treasuries transforming Africa? For his new book, Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil, John Ghazvinian traveled from the parched dust bowls of Chad and Sudan to the swamps and jungles of Nigeria and the Congo, and from the corridors of Washington to the gleaming offices of “Big Oil.” Does oil-producing Africa live up to the hype? Why is it impossible to buy bananas in Gabon, when they grow in profusion in the nation’s virgin rainforest? Can an underdeveloped country like São Tomé and Príncipe learn from other nations’ mistakes and avoid the “curse of oil”? What effect does the establishment of an oil-company compound in the middle of Chad have on the neighboring land and people? This week, we are publishing four excerpts from Untapped that answer these questions.

Although Africa has long been known to be rich in oil, extracting it hadn’t seemed worth the effort and risk until recently. But with the price of Middle Eastern crude skyrocketing, and advancing technology making reserves easier to tap, the region has become the scene of a competition between major powers that recalls the 19th-century scramble for colonization. Already, the United States imports more of its oil from Africa than from Saudi Arabia, and China, too, looks to the continent for its energy security.

Does Africa measure up to the hype? After all, the entire continent is believed to contain, at best, 10 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, making it a minnow swimming in an ocean of seasoned sharks. Africa is unlikely ever to “replace” the Middle East or any other major oil-producing region. So why the song and dance? Why all the goose bumps? Why do so many influential people in Washington let themselves get so carried away when they talk about African oil?
(3 April 2007)

Mexico Tries to Save A Big, Fading Oil Field

David Luhnow, Wall Street Journal
In March 1971, a Mexican fisherman named Rudesindo Cantarell took a few geologists from state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos to this spot, where he had seen oil slicks. Mr. Cantarell didn’t know it, but he had stumbled across one of the largest offshore oil fields ever found.

A few decades and 12 billion barrels of oil later, the field that bears Mr. Cantarell’s name is dying, and Pemex, as the state-owned company is known, is struggling to stave off the field’s demise. From January 2006 though February 2007, Cantarell lost a staggering …
(5 April 2007)
Behind a paywall, but a thread at TOD summarizes the article and comments on it. Poster “Calorie” says, “This might be the best article in WSJ’s Cantarell series yet.”

UPDATE: Peak oil ally Andrew Leonard (Salon) just posted a commentary on this WSJ piece (more at original):

In a miraculous feat of journalistic legerdemain this morning, a lengthy, detailed front-page article in the Wall Street Journal reports on declining production at Mexico’s giant Cantarell oil field, without once ever mentioning the words “peak oil.”

Reporter David Luhnow manages to achieve this while at the same time providing a textbook illustration of precisely why peak oilers are so worried that maximum production is nigh.

UPDATE 2: Rigzone just published the article mentioned above – or at least part of it. Also, the WSJ Energy blog has a few notes on the article. -BA

Indonesia’s oil output below target

Staff, ChinaView
Indonesia reported Monday its daily oil production stood below the target of 1.05 million barrels due to natural depletion and lack of new investment.

Southeast Asia’s only OPEC member said oil production averages 966,449 barrels per day as of March 28. The only way to boost production is by exploring new, large oil wells, said Dodi Hidayat, deputy chairman of the Oil and Gas Executive Body (BP Migas).

“We can fill in production shortages using the existing wells, but to boost production, we need to find large wells,” he added.
(2 Apr 2007)

Vietnam’s crude oil export down in Q1

Staff, Xinhua
Vietnam exported over 3.9 million tons of crude oil worth more than 1.7 billion U.S. dollars in the first quarter of this year, down 7.9 percent and 14.6 percent respectively year-on-year. ..

Vietnam is going to reduce export of fossil fuel like crude oil and coal to foster its petroleum and petrochemical industries, and ensure sufficient supplies for energy-thirsty industries like electricity and cement, said a local official from the Trade Ministry.

Dung Quat, Vietnam’s first refinery with an annual processing capacity of 6.5 million tons of crude oil under construction in central Quang Ngai province, is scheduled to operate in late 2008 or early 2009.

Between January and March, Vietnam imported more than 2.9 million tons of petroleum products worth over 1.4 billion dollars, up 13.2 percent and 13.6 percent over the same period last year, respectively.
(3 Apr 2007)