Fresh calls are emerging for government to allow oil and gas firms to start prospecting for the hydro-carbons as the period government said the exercises would resume fly by.
During interviews over the weekend, some business and civic leaders said they were surprised that despite the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining announcing at the end of 2015 that oil and gas exploration would begin in January or February 2016, nothing appears to be moving on the ground.
Businessperson Peter Manda, who is also secretary for Karonga Development Community (KDC)—a development umbrella body in the Northern Region district—bemoaned the delay.
He said it was increasingly becoming difficult to talk to people about oil exploration as there was no progress on the activity.
Manda said with the foundations of the country’s economy shaken to the core on the back of poor agricultural output and tattered public finances that have stifled entrepreneurship, businesses are banking their hopes and dreams in the nascent, but promising oil and gas industry.
“This is why we do not understand why government cannot move with speed when there are investors ready to explore our country’s potential for oil and gas,” said Manda.
He said as KDC they have been discussing how communities will work with the companies to operate in the area as apart from corporate social responsibility activities, businesspeople in Karonga were also looking forward to working with the companies in a number of areas through partnerships and synergy.
Civil society activist Undule Mwakasungula also recently said it was important that government moves with speed on the oil licensing decisions.
When contacted yesterday on what became of the ministry’s commitment to facilitate oil exploration resumption early this year, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Ben Botolo said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on mining matters since he was leaving the ministry. Botolo is moving to the Office of the Vice-President.
Two months ago, communities in Karonga and Nkhata Bay also asked government to speed up its decision on oil exploration licenses that Capital Hill suspended in November 2014 to review Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs), saying they believe oil discovery would be of economic benefit to their communities.
Four companies—Rak Gas, the Surestream-Hamra Oil Holdings venture, Pacific Oil and SacOil—hold the exploration licences.
Rak Gas—owned by the Government of Ras Al Khaimah, one of the emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—holds Blocks Four and Five it won after an international bidding participation. It has since carried out Full Tensor Gravity Gradiometry (FTG).
Hamra—a Cayman Island origin private company—bought 51 percent into Blocks Two and Three from Surestream and entered into a Deed of Assignment that was duly approved and signed by the ministry. Hamra too has carried out an FTG.
Pacific Oil, which is part of Vega Petroleum Limited—the privately owned oil and gas entity that has oil producing and exploration concessions in Egypt—secured Block Six, also after an international bidding participation while SacOil won Block One.
Both Pacific and SacOil are yet to carry FTGs, but the Vega group member has indicated that it is ready to carry out the exercise once it gets government nod.