Uganda now eyes possibility of natural gas exploration

Aug 01, 2006 02:00 AM

When news of a profound oil strike in Western Uganda filtered in recently, a triumphant mood immediately swirled in with fresh optimism that Uganda could overcome its poverty. And now, there even appears more cause for jubilation because the other possibly worse chronic disease; that of electricity supply shortages, might apparently have gotten a permanent solution.
The government's geological experts believe Uganda could also hold vast reserves of natural gas, a precious resource prized for its potential in generating electricity and a vital ingredient in petrochemical products like pharmaceuticals, paints, glues, fertilizers plastics and other products.

Most often, according to the Deputy Commissioner for Petroleum Exploration and Production Department, Mr Ernst Rubondo, oil and natural gas co-exist in the same subterranean localities. In countries like Nigeria, which has been producing oil for decades, natural gas that was coming off alongside oil has always been wasted away through flaring, emitting enormous dark plumes of pollutant gases into the atmosphere.
Plans are underway though to start utilisation of that gas through processing and exporting it as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), which is a much-sought after item in the US and the European Union.

Rubondo contended recently that although no specific attempts have been made to explore and determine whether the country has any commercial quantities of natural gas, the existence of extensive hydrocarbons (mother elements of petroleum) are already a firm indicator the nation will find and produce natural gas.
"These two elements always form and exist together and when we talk of petroleum, we mean oil and gas and that is why we even have such terms as oil to gas ratio," he said.

The Uganda Country Manager of Hardman Resources, Mr John Morley, was almost certain in a phone interview that Uganda would strike viable amounts of gas.
"Natural gas is part of oil but the ratio has to be significant enough for it to be commercially extracted. In future, our geologists will probably attempt to determine whether that gas ratio is huge enough to warrant commercial exploitation," he said.
Some clues to the hope of finding the resource do exist already: Heritage company discovered oil at the Turaco-1 exploration well last year but, to its utter frustration, found that it was contaminated with carbon-dioxide. It subsequently abandoned the well; however, that discovery could subsequently be the start of a new drive to explore for natural gas.

In this era of obsession with clean forms of energy and the exploding debate about global warming and the potentially catastrophic impact of fossil fuels like oil, natural gas has attracted a growing favour for its non-emission of toxic fumes while it burns. In East Africa, Tanzania so far has the best example of gas to electricity project -- the Songo Songo. Gas is piped from the Songo Songo Island in Kilwa region to a power plant overland, which uses the gas to power the turbines andproduce electricity used mainly in the country's capital, Dar es Salaam.
If vast quantities of gas were discovered in Uganda, a similar project then could be developed with enough capacity to meet a huge chuck of the country's electricity needs.

But the greater advantage though would be that that power would also possibly eliminate the need for the diesel-fuelled thermal power plants that are mass polluters. By the end of next year, 2007, Uganda is expected to have three or even four such plants. Morley contends that once viable deposits of natural gas are determined, then the company would start talks with government to chart a plan for production.
But the prospect of large-scale natural gas production for now, might better be taken as a far way dream because such an operation requires advanced, costly and sophisticated technology to extract, process, store and transport gas; something that Uganda might ill afford.

And even the international petroleum giants like Shell, Total, Chevron Texaco and others which have the expertise and financial resources might find it more viable to produce in already open fields in Russia, Middle East and other places whose gas reserves are already determined and exploitation infrastructure built.
"As you know the petroleum industry is new in Uganda so we're starting from scratch. Thus even if we were to get interested in producing natural gas, the process would take really some time," Morley says.
Rubondo though predicted that globally, natural gas is slowly taking centre stage in energy sources and that its demand would possibly soon start to grow at a terrific speed, fuelled in no measure by the spreading environmental crusades.

Source: The Monitor
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