|First flare up test at Hoima|
The French oil Major, Total S.A’s foray into east Africa’s oil exploration sector has run into headwinds. The foray itself brought tumult in the sector and the region. Farmed into Hoima Oil fields by Tullow Oil, Total SA soon began manouevres to elbow out its hosts and take full control of the 1.7 billion barrel fields.
Tullow oil was the first oil explorer to find oil in Uganda in 2006. It farmed the oil Majors Total SA and the China National Off-shore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) for 33 per cent stake in Hoima Oil fields in Uganda. Meanwhile Tullow Oil together with its Canadian partner Africa Oil had discovered oil in Kenya’s Lokichar Basin.
So Tullow planned to export its crude through the proposed Lamu Port in Kenya. For this both governments in Uganda and Kenya agreed to set up a special purposes vehicle to build an oil Pipeline through Kenya.
But then Total, secretly contracted a US company, Gulf Interstate, to do a feasibility on the Uganda-Kenya route which they found unfeasible, recommending the Pipeline be built through Tanzania’s to the Port of Tanga. Uganda bought the idea and re-routed her planned oil pipeline.
This angered Tullow who off-loaded 22% of its 33.3 per cent stake to Total SA in a US$900 million deal. Tullow moved to Kenya.
It also poisoned diplomatic relations between Kenya and Tanzania that are still chill. Now Total S.A appears set for her own tumult.
First, it appears that Total, buoyed by her success in elbowing Tullow out of Hoima Fields also began to bully CNOOC out of the fields too. CNOOC is not about to be bullied to sell her stake for she represents wider Chinese interests than just oil.
She also represents the interests of Chinese construction companies who were eyeing the deal to construct the Pipeline. So she resisted all manouevres by Total SA to control the business.
Either by coincidence, or at China’s behest, some skeletons began coming out of Total SA’s cupboard. It emerged that despite the seemingly cordial relations with Tanzania, there were under currents. President Magufuli of Tanzania developed misgivings about Total, which had disagreed with his technocrats on parts of the deal. He advised his friend President Museveni to go slow on Total.
It also emerged that, Gulf Interstate, the firm that carried the feasibility that badmouthed the Kenya route, may not have been competent in that line after all. Museveni had based his decision to re-route the oil Pipeline south on this feasibility study.
|The re-route that Cost Kenya the Pipeline|
Further, Equatorial Guinea has cautioned President Museveni to be weary of Total. The firm had defrauded Equatorial Guinea of Euros 73 million worth of crude exports between 2010 and 2012. And E.Guinea is demanding a refund.
Tullow, according to Uganda’s the independent Magazine, sold its stake due to frustration by the Uganda government over the Crude oil pipeline route. Tullow favored the Lamu Port, because of her interests in Kenya’s Lokichar Oilfields in Kenya. The pipeline from Hoima to Lamu through Lokichar would have enabled Tullow to export the Kenyan oil on the same Pipeline.
Now, the disagreement is said to be so intense that the partnership could collapse if not resolved, further delaying Uganda’s entry into the oil exporters club. This is why the Uganda government has been roped into the dispute. Both Total SA and CNOOC are lobbying Uganda President to get advantage over the other but the Chinese are said to be gaining the upper hand.
In November, both sides visited the Uganda President but the Total delegation sources say, left “unhappy”. The Chinese, led by the Ambassador in Uganda, and the CNOOC vice-President, had met the President earlier and are said to have raised concerns about Total.
To the east in Kenya, where Total SA acquired 25 percent through a buy-out of Maersk Oil from the firm’s parent company, A.P. Moller-Maersk, things do not look rosy either.
The National Oil Corporation, the industry regulator in Kenya, plans to float shares in both NSE and LSE in 2019 in an IPO to raise US$1 billion for 33 per cent stake buy-in in Lokichar Oilfields ahead of Production.
Lokichar, boasts of 750 million barrels but new wells are being discovered. The basin which extends to Ethiopia is thought to hold 23 billion barrels of the black gold.
The government’s entry into the oil sector will whittle down the stakes of the other partners. The partners in Lokichar are Tullow 50%, Africa Oil 25% and Total SA 25%. The presence of the government will whittle down Total SA’s potential influence, reducing it to a spectator. The firm had expressed its desire to lobby Kenya to allow Kenya’s crude to be exported south through the Tanga Port in Tanzania.
Such a move would have killed the US$2.1 billion Lokichar- Lamu Oil Pipeline. It would also have killed the proposed 120,000 barrels a day oil refinery in Lamu. With the entry of the Kenya government into the industry, such a dream is effectively killed.
Assuming each partner cedes 11 percent stake, then Kenyans will be the second largest stake holder after Tullow which will control 39 per cent, Kenyans 33 per cent, Africa Oil 14% and Total 14 %.
Since oil price is recovering in the international market, frontier sources such as east Africa will become the ground for intense battles among the oil Majors. Total SA’s stated goal is to be the first on the ground.
However, others-including the Chinese -are also seeking to increase their stock of crude oil, and this means bare knuckled battles. According to Uganda’s The Independent Magazine, the Chinese appear set to stay put. And the government, it says, appears lukewarm towards Total S.A.
This places the oil major between a rock and a hard place. Should it continue with its bullying ways, governments could step in to scuttle its schemes. Uganda, sources indicate, has not entirely abandoned its plans to ship oil through Kenya nor did Tullow dump all its stake on Total’s hands.
Uganda is the cradle of Total SA’s presence in east Africa. Should it slip through its hands, even the Pipeline through Tanzania will be in jeopardy.
It remains to be seen how Total S.A wades through the waters it muddied.