Oil: Zambia experts say not so fast

Sources close to the project told The Southern Times that experts in the mining and energy sector want to undertake independent exploration and analysis to justify the findings of the tests on the 12 samples that tested positive for oil and gas reserves.

Commenting on President Levy Mwanawasa’s pronouncements on October 22 that oil and gas had been discovered in Zambia and if exploited would culminate into commercial business and save the country’s resources in imports of crude oil, the sources said it was too early to confirm the presence of oil.

“The local experts have opted to undertake fresh and independent explorations and determine the value and quantities of oil reserves in Zambezi than rely on results from Germany,” the sources said.

Opening the 10th session of Parliament on October 27, President Mwanawasa said initial results from the exploration do give hope for long term solution to the country’s challenges in the petroleum sub-sector.

“With more exploration activities expected in different parts of the country, Zambia is headed for major successes in national economic development,” he said.

To reduce the country’s dependence on expensive imported fuel, the government is embarking on the promotion of bio-fuels for the transport sector.

To this effect, a national bio-fuel strategy was being developed while the national energy policy was being reviewed to include bio-fuels and other energy sources.

Mwanawasa urged the private sector investment in the growing of bio-fuel plants and establishment of processing capacity .

The government has appointed a Petroleum Committee in line with the provisions of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act.

The committee to be responsible for formulating

policies and guidelines for issuance of licenses relating to petroleum and its extraction in Zambia has been tasked to start its work soon.

The committee has been mandated to facilitate the involvement of the private sector into the exploration work.

Earlier Mwanawasa told the nation that the microbial analysis showed that 12 sites were positive for oil and six for gas.

The exploration was initially started in 2004 after prolonged fires that affected the areas, which prompted the government to launch an investigation.

The pronouncements by President Mwanawasa have raised high expectations among the people in the poor rural Zambezi and Chavuma.

It is hoped the oil and gas reserves if developed

would reduce unemployment and improve people’s livelihood, according to opposition area member of parliament, Charles Kakoma.

But critics have maintained their skepticism and warned the government against signing development agreements to avert what was happening in the mining sector where investors were not keen to review upwards mineral royalties and improve pay for Zambians.

Professor Ventakash Seshamani, a lecturer in business

and economics at the University of Zambia warned that oversights in signing of fresh mining agreements might lead to exploitation of citizens where reserves are found.

Professor Seshamani urged the government to draw lessons and experiences in countries in Africa where returns from exploration of oil reserves have not benefited the local people.

Most explorations carried out particularly in North Africa were exploitative and deprived the people economically or environmentally resulting in civil strife.

There was enough evidence in several African countries that poor management of exploiting the resources could lead to severe consequences.

Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Congo-Brazzaville have oil reserves yet they were among the poorest countries in Africa and the world, according to Seshamani.

Some of these countries discovered oil reserves when they did not have proper governments and did not channel the returns for development purposes.

Other economic commentators urged the government to re-assess the samples and determine whether the findings in Germany were a true reflection of oil and gases present.

“The contents might be negligible or might even be fossils and we might not even get the residue enough to give us the commercial value that is why we have to be cautious,” said David Punabantu.

November 2006
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