West Africa oil and gas – part two

28 Apr 2020

Oil price volatility over the last few weeks is creating havoc in the global oil and gas sector. As a result, the African oil industry faces major cutbacks and potential closures. 

The Financial Times reported on the 22 April 2020: “The big difference between $20 oil and $30 oil is that we might actually have to start shutting down wells,” said Nonso Obikili, director at the Abuja-based Turgot Centre for Economics in Nigeria. 

“In terms of the dynamics of fiscal and monetary policy, it just aggravates what was already a dire situation.” 

In part two of our special oil and gas feature covering West Africa, we look back over the history of oil in the region.


In 2004, Baraka Petroleum entered the market and IOC’s started significant exploration work at four basins in Mali. Currently, all Mali’s energy needs have to be imported. 


The Chinguetti oilfield was discovered 800m below sea level off the coast of Mauritania in 2001. During the same decade a few smaller fields were also discovered, but unfortunately most of them were not economically viable.  

Oil production peaked in 2006 at 76,000 barrels a day and has since declined to 4,000 barrels a day in 2019.  

According to BP, the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim field has an estimated 15 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas reserves. This field sits on the offshore border with Senegal and sits at 2,850m below sea level. BP made a final investment decision (FID) in 2018 to develop the offshore production capability to extract gas for domestic consumption in both Mauritania and Senegal. 

The Nouadhibou Refinery located in the northern port city of Nouadhibou was commissioned in 1983 at a cost of $140 million. While it has a capacity of 20,000 barrels a day, it currently runs at less than 50% due to years of underinvestment and unavailability of crude. 


Oil exploration in Niger started in the 1970’s. But it was the discovery and development of the Agadem oilfield in 2011 that moved the industry forward. 

In 2013 the Agadem field had a proven reserve of 1 billion barrels. From 2012 to 2015 about 20,000 barrels a day were extracted and refined at the Zinder RefineryThis has declined to roughly 9,000 barrels a day in 2019 

All the oil produced and refined is 100% earmarked for the domestic market. The Zinder refinery has a 20,000 barrel a day capacity and reached full capacity in 2012. 


Nigeria is a powerhouse in the Africa oil and gas industry and is the largest producer and exporter of crude oil in Africa. Many of the top International Oil Companies (IOC) are operating in Nigeria. 

Exploration started over 115 years ago back in 1903but the first commercial discoveries were only made in 1956. 

Nigeria’s oil production peaked in 2011 at 2.53 million barrels a day. Unfortunately, securing oil production assets in the country has become a major issue and oil production fell to less than 2 million barrels a day in 2018. Most of Nigeria’s primary reserves are in the Niger river delta. This is an area difficult to police against oil theft. 


Nigeria’s refining industry has been neglected for many years. Only three refineries were built, all of which don’t come close to operating to design capacity. 

The Port Harcourt Refinery was the very first refinery built in Nigeria. It consists an old refinery with a 60,000 barrel a day capacity which was commissioned in 1965. A larger 150,000 barrel a day refinery was built on-site and commissioned in 1989. The new refinery provides utilities to the old refinery but are still operated as two separate plants. It is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, so refining capacity has been reduced to 230,000 barrels a day. 

Constructed in the 1970’s by Japan’s Chiyoda and commissioned in 1980, the Kaduna Refinery is the third refinery built in NigeriaThe fuel plant capacity was originally 50,000 barrels a day and was increased to 60,000 barrels a day in 1986. A lube oil plant was added and commissioned in 1983, increasing capacity to 110,000 barrels a day. In 1988, the Linear Alkyl Benzene (LAB) plant was added and commissioned. It produces 30,000 tonnes a year. 

The Warri Refinery was commissioned in 1978 with a 100,000 barrel a day capacity. A number of debottlenecking projects in 1987 increased capacity to 125,000 barrels a day. In 1988 the Warri Refinery was merged with the Ekpan Petrochemical plant.  

But with soaring demand, a number of private organisations have embarked on developing refining capacity in Nigeria. The largest of these is the Dangote group building a 650,000 barrel a day refinery near Lagos. Niger Delta Petroleum Resrouces and Azikel Petroleum are adding a further two smaller refineries with 11,000 and 12,000 barrels a day capacity. 


Other than the offshore field shared with Mauritania, Senegal has only just embarked on a significant offshore exploration drive. In January 2020 it launched its offshore licensing round with proposals due at the end of July 2020.   

Current domestic demand is met by imports and products refined by the only refinery in SenegalThe Dakar Refinery. Construction of this refinery starter in 1962 and it was commissioned in 1963, with a capacity of 27,000 barrels a day. 

Sierra Leone 

Oil and gas exploration started in the early 1980’s and the first two exploratory wells were drilled by 1985. In February this year, six companies submitted bids in the fourth licensing round for offshore concessions in Sierra Leone. Small quantities of oil have been produced over the last decade. All fuel needs to be imported as no downstream capacity exists. 

The Gambia 

Ultra-deep field development seems to be the only commercially viable option for oil and gas in The Gambia, although some initial 3D seismic surveys show some potential offshore. All of The Gambia’s fuel and energy needs to be imported.  


In 2010 Eni entered into production-sharing agreements with the government of Togo.  There is currently no viable fields producing oil, so all fuel oil demands have to be met by imports.

Missed part one?  You can read it here

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