US courts oil-rich African countries

Nov 19, 2003 01:00 AM

Some oil-rich West African nations may have dismal human-rights policies, but that won't keep the United States from courting them to develop alternatives to Middle East crude, said the leader of a group representing US companies working in Africa.
"We have to work with the leadership of the country whether we like them or not," Stephen Hayes, president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa, said at the opening of a three-day Africa oil and gas forum.

Hayes told about 180 oil and gas executives and representatives of African oil-producing countries that investment by US oil companies in exploration and production, infrastructure, health and education will boost Africa's economy and reduce US dependence on Middle East oil.
"It's essential for US energy security," he said of increased exploration and production in Africa. Hayes said Africa's vast reserves -- both tapped and untapped -- will prove critical to the United States through the end of the decade as existing production failsto keep up with demand, which is expected to grow by up to 3 % a year.

West Africa's Gulf of Guinea already supplies 15 % of US oil imports, and Hayes and analysts predict that share could grow to 25 % by 2015. The State Department considers the government of Equatorial Guinea to be repressive, with many reported cases of prisoners being tortured and beaten. Still, Hayes said, demand for oil likely will outweigh concerns of human-rights activists. Hayes offered his group as a mediator to help human-rights groups address their concerns as US investment grows in Africa.
Kenneth R. Evans, senior vice president for African exploration for Texas-based ExxonMobil, said increased exploration and production in Africa is crucial to meeting growing demand.

Currently, global demand is 120 mm bpd of oil equivalent. By the end of the decade, that is expected to grow to 160 mm bpd of oil equivalent, he said. Analysts expect up to half of production in 2010 to come from as-yet untapped resources, Evans said.
"African nations are well-positioned to capture a portion of this expected market," he said.

Dave A. Lafiaji, executive secretary of the Congo-based African Petroleum Producers Association, a coalition of 12 African oil-producing countries including Equatorial Guinea, said he hoped the conference would foster more investment possibilities from American companies that would help propel more sustainable economic gains in West Africa. Lafiaji also said much of Africa remains unexplored and offers enhanced global energy security in exchange for investment that would serve rising domestic needs for infrastructure and economic stability.
"For these initiatives, we believe we need international support," Lafiaji said. "Our association is working on initiatives to play a greater role and be a key player in the energy component."

Other member nations of the producers' group are Algeria, Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Nigeria and Zaire.

Source: Associated Press
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