Energy experts say Africa could prosper in the decade ahead as a major supplier of oil and gas to a world where energy demand is rising fast. In an effort to promote more development of their energy resources, officials from several African nations are in Houston, Texas, for a two-day forum.

Around 120 people ranging from African government officials to academics and oil company executives are attending the Africa Oil and Gas Forum, which was organized by the Corporate Council on Africa, a Washington-based non-profit organization.

Industry representatives are here to learn more about energy resources in Africa and to seek business partnerships and service contracts.

American Petroleum Institute President Red Cavaney says Africa has great potential as a supplier of energy to the world.

"Africa's future as the world's last, large, unexplored energy frontier could not appear brighter," he said. "The region offers what is potentially the next major growth area in the entire world, based on its energy supplies and other natural resources in abundance."

Participants in the forum are especially interested in Africa's potential for producing natural gas, both for domestic use and for export.

Nigeria's top energy advisor, says his nation, which has already well-developed oil fields, is just beginning to exploit its gas reserves.

"The U.S. needs gas. Europe needs gas. Transnational companies can do a brisk business on gas," said Mr. Daukoru. "If we had the kind of gas resource that we have now as our only resource, we would have reckoned ourselves highly, highly blessed. But the gas is only a counterpart to oil."

Shell Oil Companies' Business Director for Africa, Ademola Adeyemi-Bero, says new pipe lines and the technology to convert gas to liquid for maritime transport make gas the energy source for the 21st century providing Africa with a great opportunity.

"It is in a perfect position to supply, what I will say, two of the four major markets of the world. It sits in the Atlantic basin, easy access, close potential, supplied into the key markets of Northwest Europe as well as North America," he said.

Many African nations continue to burn off much of the gas that is released from oil fields, wasting a resource that by one estimate could provide about half of the current electrical power used on the continent. Nigeria has a plan to eliminate such flaring of gas by the year 2008, but many countries lack the technology and infrastructure to fully take advantage of their gas deposits.

Steven Faltin of the Houston-based Cooper Cameron Corporation says his energy sector service company is working in Africa trying to assist nations in developing their natural gas potential.

"They do not have any way to capture it, bottle it and redeploy it, re-inject it, drive the reservoir pressures," said Mr. Faltin. "So those are things we go in to try to help these guys understand that you are burning money. Why don't we take that and redeploy it and keep the reservoir pressures up for you."

Large oil company representatives are also attending the forum seeking possible deals to help exploit both oil and gas reserves in Africa. The event continues with sessions on maritime safety and finances issues for energy resource development.