Hydrocarbons in Sub-Saharan Africa and North West Europe
Sub-Saharan Africa and North West Europe: both have experienced oil and gas exploration for over a hundred years – and both still keep surprising us.
One of the first oil wells in the world was sunk in Wietze in northern Germany in 1858, leading to the discovery of over 70 fields, while in Scotland they were extracting oil from shales from the 1850s, for use as candles and lubricating lamps as well as for burning. Oil exploration in sub-Saharan Africa also started early in the 20th century – as far back as 1907 in Nigeria and 1915 in Angola, for example. The East African industry began with an Anglo-American expedition to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1920, with early efforts concentrating on Uganda and the Eritrean Red Sea.
Once drilling moved offshore, both these regions found their feet. The first well was drilled off Nigeria in 1963, with the first offshore field there, Warri, discovered by Shell in 1965. Angola followed suit with Malongo in 1968. Once the first commercial discoveries in the North Sea had been made – the UK West Sole field in 1965 and Norway’s Ekofisk in 1969 – there was no looking back for North West Europe, either.
Until, that is, the late 1990s, when ‘peak oil’ reared its head. Production in North West Europe took a steep dive – but, against all expectations, in 2013 it steadied, and since then there has been a slight upwards trend. This was largely driven by Norway, with discoveries such as the 2.1–3.1 Bbo giant, Johan Sverdrup – but also by explorers looking at different types of reservoirs, like the basement discoveries West of Shetland.
Production was buoyant for longer in Africa, before dropping back in about 2012. That has also been reversed, and is likely to continue positively, as areas once considered barren, like the MSGBC Basin or Lake Albert in Uganda – both discussed in this edition – have been turned around by exciting discoveries (and perseverance) and are now fast approaching production.
Crucial, however, has been the drive to extract every last drop from the reservoirs, both by the use of new techniques and by a willingness to think imaginatively and come up with new ideas about the geology and the plays. This will become increasingly important for both regions in the future.