A U.S. oil company has found what could be commercially viable reserves of oil off the coast of Sierra Leone.
The first ever deep-water test well in the Sierra Leone-Liberia basin struck a deposit of hydrocarbons more than 12,000 feet below the bottom of the ocean.
The discovery was made by the U.S. oil exploration and production company Anadarko Petroleum. Al Walker is Anadarko's Chief Operations Officer.
"We are very excited about the results of this frontier exploration well and its significant impact on our West African exploration program," said Al Walker.
Anadarko scientists are still analyzing data from this strike in the Venus field off the coast of Sierra Leone. They are looking at existing seismic models to determine whether the site itself is commercially viable or whether it is simply a positive indicator for the rest of the field.
Either way, Anadarko vice president for international exploration Frank Paterson says the discovery will certainly drive additional activity off Sierra Leone.
"We think it's fantastic that we got a lot of our initial questions answered - the hydrocarbon system, the sand system - and now it is a matter of using that calibration point as we go forward," said Frank Paterson.
Sierra Leone Information Minister Ibrahim Ben-Kargbo says the government in Freetown is pleased by the discovery but wants to hear more from Anadarko about additional test results.
"They are very certain that there is oil, but of course they have asked us to be cautious because they want to be very certain that the oil is in commercial quantities," said Ben-Kargbo.
Anadarko figured its chances of finding hydrocarbons in its first test well were less than 25 percent. Senior vice president for worldwide exploration Bob Daniels says striking a deposit that measures at least 45 feet could mean far richer finds to come.
"The information we got from this well, all of it is very positive for the exploration efforts in the Liberian and the Ivorian basin," said Bob Daniels. "That includes the sand systems, it includes the petroleum systems, the thermal maturity, the migration. Everything that we hoped to find in here was very positive."
Anadarko is the same firm that discovered oil in Ghana's Jubilee field. That first offshore site alone could generate $20 billion by 2030. And Ghanian President John Atta Mills says he wants to make sure that wealth does not lead to the corruption and environmental damage that is troubling regional oil giant Nigeria.
Information Minister Ben-Kargbo says Sierra Leone is also mindful of properly managing any potential oil boom, especially given how much of the country's diamond wealth was lost to years of civil war.
"If it really becomes the case that Sierra Leone becomes an oil-producing country, we are going to put in place the structures for accountability and transparency," he said. "And we will never again make the mistakes we made when we squandered the wealth that should have accrued from diamonds in this country."
Anadarko is exploring for oil across more than eight million acres of West African ocean floor off Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Gabon.
Its next scheduled deep-water test well is in the South Grand Lahou field off Ivory Coast.