Zimbabwe claims landmark oil discovery

May 14, 2007 02:00 AM

The cash-strapped Zimbabwe government claims it has made a landmark oil discovery in Chinhoyi, a resort town in the north of the country, amid reports the find has provoked new tensions between central government and the provincial leadership.
President Robert Mugabe's government claims it has found more than 1 mm barrels of oil after testing a well drilled at Maningwe, a farm located a stone's throw from Chinhoyi Caves, which was grabbed from a white farmer at the height of the land grab.

The well flowed at 50 bpd, providing reassurance that the oil-bearing rocks that contain the massive oilfield extend into Zimbabwe. The discovery, which will become the first oil field in Zimbabwe if confirmed by fuel experts, gives a big boost to the economic prospects of the crisis-torn country and has also raised the political stakes over who controls the valuable energy resource.
Fears that oil ambitions could ignite political conflict between the Minister of Energy, Mike Nyambuya, and Nelson Samkange, governor of Mashonaland West -- the province in which Chinhoyi falls -- were aroused in April when Nyambuya reportedly declared that all oil exploration and research should be handled by the Energy Ministry in Harare and the Geological Survey department.

His assertion appeared to conflict with Samkange's grant of licences of exploration and research to the Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT). Although officials at the CUT were tight-lipped when The Zimbabwean visited the campus earlier, sources in the Faculty of Fuels and Energy confirmed that the university had run a series of tests on samples of oil from the site.
"Initial tests indicate the presence of large quantities of light and high quality oil and huge quantities of associated gas," said our source. A visit to the site, eight km from Chinhoyi along Kariba Road, revealed that the place had been cordoned off by gun-toting state security personnel.

A Zimbabwe flag has been hoisted at the site. The Zimbabwean was unable to verify reports that the Maningwe mole, located in a rugged terrain, was oozing with oil. A svikiro (spirit medium) at the site denied our news crew access, claiming there were rituals which had to be carried out before the site was opened to the public.
Authoritative sources said there was a dog-fight between central government and the provincial leadership over the oil find amid reports both Samkange and Nyambuya were keen to benefit financially from the grant of licences to foreign firms clandestinely enquiring about acquiring exploration rights over the territory.

Sources closely following the oil deal said there was an Iranian investor who had enquired about signing a production-sharing agreement with the provincial leadership. The investment reportedly involves sums ranging around $ 4,5 mm.
Legal experts said Zimbabwe's constitution was ambiguous as to which jurisdiction has the ultimate authority over mineral rights. It envisages that both central and provincial governments have the right to cut deals with private companies but stipulates that the revenues from taxation should be distributed fairly.

Source / The Zimbabwean
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