Kenya Strikes Oil in 'Major Breakthrough'

A mother and her children walk along a path in central Turkana, Kenya, August 30, 2011.
A mother and her children walk along a path in central Turkana, Kenya, August 30, 2011.
Gabe Joselow

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki announced Monday that oil has been discovered in northwestern Kenya, but he cautioned that it will take years before the country begins production.

Kibaki called the discovery of oil in the Turkana region a “major breakthrough in oil exploration.” He added that this is the “beginning of a long journey” to make the country an oil producer.

The company behind the find, Britain's Tullow Oil, said it discovered a 20-meter-deep deposit of oil more than a kilometer below the surface of the earth.

Key find, early stage

Company spokesman George Cazenove said the discovery is significant, but cautioned that it is only an intermediate step in a much larger process.

“Twenty-meters of net oil pay is a reasonable result, it's certainly something that people in Kenya should be excited by. But the well has a lot further to go, as well, and there may be more oil there, there may not be, so this is essentially a sort of interim result of something that's exciting, but again, I would stress once more that there's much more work to be done,” said Cazenove.

Tullow plans to continue drilling the well, to a depth of 2,700 meters, to determine if there is further oil potential.

In a statement, the company said the oil found in Turkana has “similar properties to the light waxy crude discovered in Uganda.”

Cazenove said this is an important comparison.

“It is a valuable parallel because the first well in Uganda was in 2006 and we have drilled, since then, 46 exploration and appraisal wells, and we are about four years away from, we hope, major production, and that's 2016, so that gives you some idea of the length of time it takes to move from initial discoveries all the way through the value chain right up to production,” said Cazenove.

Great potential of discovery

Tullow has not said how much oil it expects to find in Kenya, but if it is anything like the Uganda discovery it could be a significant amount.

The company already has discovered 1.1 billion barrels of oil in Uganda's Lake Albert Basin region and believes another 1.4 billion barrels are yet to be found.

Cazenove said Tullow has two more wells to drill in Kenya this year and more planned for 2013.

The drilling operations are part of a larger multi-well campaign in Kenya and Ethiopia, spanning an area in excess of 100,000 square kilometers.

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