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Tullow discovery lifts hopes for Kenyan onshore

An oil discovery in the remote northwest of Kenya, made by Tullow with its first well in the country, raises hopes for an oil boom to match that of neighbouring Uganda

Tullow said in late March that its Ngamia-1 well in Block 10BB, in Turkana county, had found a net 20 metres of oil zones, from which crude of a gravity lighter than 30°API had been recovered. The well was being deepened to 2,700 metres.

The similarities to Tullow’s Lake Albert discoveries in Uganda, some 600 km to the west, include the light waxy character of the crude and the shallow depth at which it lies – the Ngamia find was made at a depth of only 1,041 metres. The source-rocks and reservoir system are said to be the same as those in Uganda. Ngamia-1 is the first well to be drilled in a campaign covering Tullow’s licences in Kenya and Ethiopia, where “many leads and prospects similar to Ngamia have been identified”, the firm says.

The Ngamia structure lies in the Lokichar basin, which is said to be similar in size to the 9,000 square km Lake Albert rift basin in Uganda. Tullow has carried out a full-tensor gravity (FTG) survey over the area – the technology it used successfully in Uganda, which is claimed to provide mapping comparable to 3-D seismic work.

Block 10BB is held 50:50 by Tullow and Canada’s Africa Oil, although Africa Oil says Tullow is paying 80% of the costs, following an earlier farm-in. When operations at Ngamia have been completed the rig, the Weatherford 804, will be moved to Block 10A, to the east, to drill the Paipai structure.

Synergies between Kenya’s oil prospects and Uganda’s Lake Albert fields could extend to the export route. Although the Ugandan government wants Lake Albert crude refined in the country, volumes are likely to be in excess of regional consumption so exports by pipeline are also planned. The likely pipeline route would be alongside the existing refined products pipeline running from Eldoret, Uganda, to the coast at Mombasa – or possibly the export pipeline might utilise the larger-diameter section of the existing pipeline. Fields in Kenya’s Lokichar basin could feed into the pipeline through a relatively short link southwards.

Inland Kenya has seen exploration in the past, with more than 20 wells drilled mostly in the 1970s and 1980s by companies including Shell, Total, BP and Chevron. The most promising find, although it was plugged and abandoned, was made by Shell with the Loperot-1 well – at a location just 25 km northeast of Ngamia. Loperot-1, drilled in 1992, found a net 13 metres of oil zones in thin layers from which oil of 29°API was sampled, although the primary target was disappointing. Oil seeps in Lake Turkana, close by, provide a further sign of prospectivity.

Africa Oil claims Kenya and its northern neighbours Ethiopia and Somalia are “vastly underexplored”, despite having a proven petroleum system. The firm says fewer than 200 wells have been drilled in the entire region – while 61 had to be drilled in the North Sea before the first discovery, although that area is less than a tenth of the size.

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