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US to Pay for Study of Sao Tome Airport, Port Facilities

The United States will finance a feasibility study on the expansion of the international airport in Africa's smallest nation, in the hopes of furthering oil exploration there.

The study, which is estimated to cost $800,000, will investigate airport expansion and modernization, as well the creation of a deep water port in Sao Tome and Principe.

Following seismic surveys that showed potential for large oil fields, the tiny island nation located off the coast of West Africa began auctioning drilling rights for nine offshore areas in a joint effort with Nigeria. Some of the area is in Nigerian waters, and some is in Sao Tome's waters.

The international oil company ExxonMobil successfully bid on one of the blocks late last year.

According to ExxonMobil spokesman Russ Roberts, West Africa is attractive not only for its oil potential, but also because it is less turbulent than the Middle East. "There is a lot out there now that says West Africa is the next frontier for oil. Much in the Middle East has been found, and then when you get into West Africa there are huge reservoirs that are being discovered," he said.

Mr. Roberts said it can take up to three decades of work to complete the oil production in an area, including exploration, discovery, drilling and extracting the oil.

Once the bidding for the off-shore areas is complete, Sao Tome is set to receive 40 percent of the revenues, while Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, will receive 60 percent.

Until now, Sao Tome and Principe relied almost exclusively on the export of cocoa for foreign currency revenue, which has suffered a major decline due to drought and the low price of cocoa.

According to the U.S. Embassy for Sao Tome and Principe, no starting date for the airport and seaport survey has been chosen, but companies will be invited to bid on the project soon in the hope that the study will be underway by the end of this year.