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African oil ministers push back against green agenda

By Christophe Le Bec, in Cape Town
Posted on Monday, 11 November 2019 09:23

An offshore oil platform is seen at the Bouri Oil Field off the coast of Libya. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

At the Africa Oil Week Conference in Cape Town last week, environmental issues were high on the agenda. NGOs and international institutions are pushing African states to accelerate their transition to renewable energy.

But the governments of the continent’s oil-producing countries are not ready to abandon a model on which their economies remain highly dependent.

The Africa Oil Week brought together more than 1,800 oil and gas professionals from across the continent. More than 20 African ministers canvassed strongly reaffirmed they would continue to champion hydrocarbons to promote economic development and meet their countries’ energy needs.

“We do not believe that the different energy sources — oil, gas, coal, and renewables — are exclusive to each other, they are complementary,” explained South African Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe.

South Africa’s energy sector he claimed, “can only evolve gradually, taking into account environmental issues, but also and above all economic development and the reduction of inequalities”.

The urgency of electrification

South Africa, facing power shortages, is not ready to close its coal-fired power plants, in which it holds significant reserves.

It is also betting the future on the Brulpadda offshore natural gas reserves which Total discovered in February 2019 some 180 km off the South African coast.

  • Deliberately provocative, the South African minister joked, “If we stop coal too quickly, we will certainly breathe fresh air, but it will be in complete darkness without electricity!”

The same stance was taken by his colleague, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, the Minister of Mines, Industry and Energy in Equatorial Guinea, and son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

  • “No one is going to force us not to use our fossil resources,” said Lima. “We must protect the environment, but also create jobs for young people. Hydrocarbon reserves are a blessing, we will not apologize for using them, especially gas, which can enable us to electrify the continent.”

He added that he hoped African countries would stop importing gas from Russia or the Middle East, and give priority to the continent’s own major gas producers, such as Algeria and Equatorial Guinea.

Noël Mboumba, Gabonese Minister of Petroleum, reminded others of the importance to his country of the sector for which he is responsible, saying it currently represents 60% of the State’s revenue.

Extinction Rebellion activists deploy molasses in the hall of the Africa Oil Week © XR

Rebellion Extinction pays a call

The ministerial statements came at the start of Africa Oil Week when a group of 15 activists from the environmental movement, Extinction Rebellion, poured fake oil on to the floor of the conference hall and shouted that the participants in the conference were “climate criminals”.

Reducing the environmental footprint of the oil and gas industries was not overlooked during the conference. Several operators reported technological advances in this area to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

They also highlighted projects based on gas, a non-renewable fossil fuel, but presented as “green”, whose major reserves have been found over the past five years, particularly in Mozambique, Senegal, and Mauritania.

  • These gas fields are scheduled to come on stream in 2022.

For African governments in these countries, the priority is to direct these projects towards supplying their domestic markets, particularly for electrification, while the oil giants that run them — notably BP, ENI and Total — prioritise the international markets in order to increase the profitability of the projects.

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