West Africa oil and gas – part one

Apr 22, 2020 | Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Oil and gas, The Gambia

The oil rich West-African region has seen more than 100 years of exploration. Oil has been commercially produced since the 1950's. With all this, very little has been invested in downstream facilities.

With oil prices at an all-time low, we take a look back at West Africa’s oil and gas history and how the region currently operates, in a special two-part series.

Naturally, the region has some of the largest oil and gas deposits in Sub-Sahara Africa. But while West Africa is set to experience some of the fastest demand in the world, it domestically can’t afford to support this demand. In fact, most of West Africa’s hydrocarbons are exported to richer nations that can afford to pay international prices.


Production of oil in Benin started in 1986 when the country discovered offshore oil in the Sémé field. Since then, production has declined.

A number of deep-water concession areas are currently being explored, but at present, Benin has to import all fuel requirements as it has no downstream refining facilities.

Burkina Faso

With no new oil or gas reserves or any refining facilities, Burkina Faso has to import all its fuel requirements.


In the 1970’s, Ghana discovered oil offshore in the Tano basin. Wells were drilled and the first offshore oil was produced in the early 1990’s. The Jubilee fields were determined to be commercially viable and production commenced at the end of 2010.

More recently, ExxonMobil entered a partnership with GNPC (NOC) to conduct deep-water exploration in the western coast towards Ivory Coast.

Ghana’s only oil refinery, Tema Oil Refinery, was designed in the 1950’s and commissioned in 1960. Originally privately owned by an Italian organization, in 1977 the Ghana government became the sole owner. The refinery was refurbished in 1989 and in 2002 underwent a major upgrade with the installation of a RFCC unit by Samsung at an estimated cost of US $230 million.

Today, it has a nameplate capacity of 45,000 barrels a day.


The Republic of Guinea developed and published a petroleum code in 2014 and recently established the National Oil Office. It has demarcated 14 onshore blocks and 22 offshore blocks for exploration. Guinea has no downstream refining facilities and has to import all its fuel needs.


In 2004, ultradeep water oil was discovered at a depth of more than 3,500 metres. In 2019, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) acquired a controlling stake in one of the offshore exploration blocks. At present, all Guinea-Bissau’s fuel needs have to be imported.

Ivory Coast

More than 90% of Ivory Coast’s oil deposits are offshore with most in shallow water. Oil was first discovered in 1977 and three years later, the country’s first oil was pumped. In 2019, Ivory Coast produced more than 50,000 barrels of oil a day.

Gas deposits are also present and predominantly utilised for power generation. In March 2020, operating licenses where renewed for fields in block CI 27.

There are two refineries in Ivory Coast: Abidjan Refinery and Abidjan Bitumen Refinery.

Abidjan Refinery was commissioned in 1980 and has a capacity of 68,000 barrels a day. It produces fuel for the domestic market.

Abidjan Bitumen Refinery has capacity to produce 10,000 barrels a day and is located within the confines of the Abidjan Refinery.


Oil exploration in Liberia started in 2004 after the government demarcated 17 offshore blocks and offered concessions to international oil companies (IOC’s).

In 2011, the government added a further 13 ultra-deep-water blocks. The first major deposits were discovered in 2012 and eight years later in January 2020, the Liberia Petroleum Regulatory Authority offered nine blocks in the Harper basin for exploration. This is Liberia’s last unexplored and drilled areas offshore.

Unfortunately, Liberia has not been able to commercially produce any oil yet and has to import all its fuel needs as there’s no downstream refining facilities.

Part two is available here.

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