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President’s Column

Focus on East Africa

Jeff Spath, 2014 SPE President
SPE President Jeff SpathOver the next year, I will use this monthly column to offer my thoughts on emerging frontiers—geographic as well as technological. In some columns, I’ll take a look at the hottest new oil and gas regions around the world, state-of-the-art technologies that make it possible to succeed there, and the role that SPE is playing in the region. In other columns, I’ll consider a variety of broader, cutting-edge trends and developing technologies, such as big data and the evolving face of education, and the role they are playing within our industry as a whole and, more specifically, within SPE.

East Africa

To kick off, consider one of the most dynamic oil and gas regions to emerge, quite unexpectedly, in recent years—east Africa, in particular Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

While exploration in this area dates back to 1904, recent massive natural gas discoveries by Anadarko, ENI, Statoil, and others have catapulted Mozambique and east Africa into the spotlight. Since 2010, for example, an estimated 100 Tcf of recoverable gas reserves have been discovered offshore Mozambique alone (US Energy Information Administration, 2013). Exploration success combined with greater political stability and reasonable commercial terms has brought an unprecedented surge of investors, operators, service companies, and associated vendors into the region.

One of the more significant challenges to supporting the influx of oil industry expatriates to east Africa is inadequate infrastructure in all of these countries, especially in Mozambique, which has had little to no investment following decades of civil war. With such a promising future, however, the number of hotels, restaurants, and international banks is growing daily. In a recent visit to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, I heard people complaining about the novelty of traffic congestion—a sign of development. Nevertheless, the country has a long way to go. Despite being one of Africa’s fastest growing economies over the last decade, Mozambique still ranks 185 out of 186 on the United Nation’s 2012 Human Development Index—below Sudan and Afghanistan (United Nations Development Programme, 2012).

Local Talent Needed

Apart from infrastructure, perhaps the greatest hurdle in developing newly discovered gas resources is the scarcity of local engineering talent. Most students in east Africa leave the country or the continent to obtain degrees in oil and gas. As you can see from Fig. 1, there is a dearth of oil and gas universities in sub-Saharan Africa overall, and east Africa in particular. Yet these nations desperately need to train professionals in the oil and gas disciplines, especially petroleum engineering. As an example, Kenya’s Ministry of Higher Education noted that, following its first commercial discovery of oil in 2012, the country needs at least 30,000 engineers to realize its goal of becoming a middle-income economy by 2030 (Wanga, 2013). Imagine how many engineers the other countries in east Africa will need to achieve their potential.

The governments of all four nations are committed to building the capacity of local institutions to offer education in petroleum engineering. For example, after Uganda’s first commercial discovery of oil, the government established a national research and training center, which currently offers a diploma in petroleum studies. In 2011, two Ugandan universities began offering petroleum geoscience and engineering courses for the first time, while another, founded that year and still under construction, plans to launch a master’s program in petroleum engineering. At present, two universities in Tanzania have courses in petroleum engineering and geology. Starting this year, one will offer undergraduate degrees in both disciplines. Kenya recently secured a loan to enable several of its universities to train graduate-level petroleum and other engineers over the next 5 years.

In Mozambique, there are still very few opportunities for local students to learn petroleum engineering. In 2012, however, the country’s first and largest university—Eduardo Mondlane University—partnered with a consortium of oil companies headed by Anadarko to launch a two-part program in petroleum engineering education. There is an introductory core program, which offers courses in geoscience, drilling, reservoir engineering, and production operations for petroleum engineers, and a full master’s program in petroleum engineering. The first 25 students were admitted in April 2013. Faculty include six professors from Texas A&M University, Pennsylvania State University, Texas Tech University, Colorado School of Mines, and the University of Tulsa—all of whom are members of SPE.

Technology Deployed

New technology, as usual, has contributed to the string of new discoveries in this region; however, the focus in the region continues to be on exploration. Seismic surveys, utilizing the latest in broadband acquisition and imaging, have enabled high-resolution structural features to be determined in what is a geologically complex area. Using integrated software processing and interpretation software solutions, data from basin scale to pore scale are used to reduce uncertainty and expedite decision making. More reliable rock properties, extracted from the high-resolution seismic data using specialized, calibrated algorithms, allow for more confidence in assessing the value of a prospect and in selecting optimum well locations.

Technologies that simulate the behavior of the bit as well as each component of the bottomhole assembly and the drillstring through the Oligocene, Miocene, and Paleocene sands prevalent in the region are being deployed to help with advanced well planning. To measure flow rates of oil, gas, and water accurately, multiphase flowmeters, employing recent innovations in multi-energy gamma-ray holdup measurement, are being routinely deployed. The portability, accuracy, and reliability of modern testing and sampling equipment have had a huge impact on effective decision making around flow assurance and facility sizing.

SPE in the Region

SPE’s activity in east Africa is still in its infancy. Currently, only Uganda has an SPE section and two student chapters. Elsewhere, we plan to establish new sections in several countries within the next 12 to 18 months. Under the established leadership of Africa Region Director, Tony Ogunkoya, I’m confident we will get there. Also, the SPE Board has approved plans for the first Africa conference and exhibition on health, safety, and environment, which will take place in Kenya in June 2014. This conference, along with several planned Applied Technology Workshops, will further SPE’s ability to serve the industry in the region.

It’s clear to me that east Africa, as one of the world’s most prolific new oil and gas frontiers, has considerable potential for SPE programs and services to help industry professionals there. From the organization of professional sections and technical programs, to engagement with local governments, to collaboration with companies on university programs, to educating the local public on our industry—east Africa offers many opportunities to make initiatives in our new SPE Strategic Plan a reality.

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