Sunday, July 5, 2015

Large scale gas resource potential in the Mauritania-Senegal-Gambia-Guinea Bissau Basin

Cairn is one of Europe's leading independent oil and gas exploration and development companies, according the companies website.  It has been the leading petroleum company also exploring and eventually developing the Senegal Basin.

The Edison Investment Research website suggests that following the back-to-back oil discoveries along the Senegal Basin in 2014 have opened up a new basin in the Atlantic.

The Cairn SEN-1 well (in Senegal) was one of the largest discoveries in the world in 2014, thus encouraging the company to extend its exploration efforts to cover three additional wells that are being scheduled for exploration and appraisal shortly.

It is important to note is that what is commonly referred to in the petroleum literature as the Senegal Basin extends far beyond its economic zone to extend northward to Mauritania and southward to include the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau referred to as the Mauritania-Senegal-Gambia-Guinea Bissau Basin (MSGBC).

Kosmos Energy, a Dallas-based, company announced in April 2014 that it has made a significant gas discovery that the company CEO described as "a large scale gas resource."  This discovery further highlights the potential of the region that also includes The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.

With Cairn in Senegal and Cosmos in Mauritania, the Gambia has smaller players that includes African Petroleum.  Apart from contract cancellations and threats of international arbitration, little is known of the contracts between these companies and the government of Yaya Jammeh who has deliberately kept the Gambian people in the dark.

By contrast, Cairn's relations with Senegal has been open and appears transparent enough to glean details of the association and the company's activities.  The company's website touts its ethos of acting "with respect - for people and their communities, the environment, the rule of law and human rights."

The information flow between African Petroleum and the Jammeh regime is non-existent.  It is even doubtful whether there has been any Bill brought before the National Assembly that provides the legal framework for the petroleum prospecting, exploration and development currently in the pipeline.

The relationship has been opaque at best thus encouraging speculation.  Waving a CD before a national television audience, and dealing with the Secretary General and the Permanent Secretary all within the Presidency, will not suffice.  It is no coincidence, therefore that most of the previous occupants o these two posts have landed into trouble with Yaya Jammeh.  The latest victim is the Permanent Secretary at the Petroleum Ministry, facing charges of theft and insubordination.

What Gambians need going forward is an open transparent process governing the activities of the Office of the President and the Ministry of Petroleum regarding all of the companies involved and the contracts entered into in the name of the Gambian people.  A Bill must be brought before the National Assembly proposing a legal framework, including but not limited to the establishment and management of a Sovereign Fund similar to the Norwegian Fund to inoculate ourselves from the "resource curse" that has inflicted African countries like Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.

Jammeh's mishandling of the petroleum sector, and his negotiating strategy is unclear, arbitrary and amateurish in our view.  For example, the African Petroleum contract with the Gambia is the only contract the company has entered into with 100% of the risk assumed by the company, whereas all other countries - Senegal, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire - where African Petroleum operate, the formula has been 90% /10% which is the industry standard.

It is time that other Ministries and Departments are invited to be an integral part of, and actively supervising, the entire process.  It can no longer be left to the desires of a single individual with a Minister and a Permanent Secretary who act on instructions of Jammeh as the expense of everyone else.  The natural resource endowment of the Gambia belongs to current and future generation of Gambians yet unborn which must, therefore, be properly and transparently managed on their behalf.