Rwanda’s Oil Prospects

Public optimism for potential fossil fuel in the country raised a notch higher after the recent discovery of oil and gas reserves in the other East African partner states.

The discovery of oil reserves in Kenya and Uganda has led pundits to wonder whether East Africa could be the next oil hotspot after West Africa and the Middle East.

However, Rwanda may have to wait a little longer before it can strike oil let alone benefit from the large foreign exchange inflows that come with it.

Whereas oil exploration in Rwanda began in 2010, Uganda, Rwanda’s neighbour to the north, began exploring oil as early as 1920s and it was not until 2006 that the first oil discovery was made in the Albertine Graben, a region on the Uganda-DRC border.

Kenya so far offers the most interesting scenario. Even though oil exploration began in the 1950s, the country had unsuccessfully drilled about 35 dry oil wells over a period of 30 years before finally striking oil deposits in March this year.

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Kenyan and Ugandan experiences indicate that despite serious technological advances in oil exploration, Rwanda still has a long way to go before any potential breakthrough.

Oil exploration began when the government entered into an agreement with Canadian firm, Vanoil Energy, to begin works in Lake Kivu, along the Rwanda-DRC border, which also falls in the Albertine Graben.

“We are still far away from finding oil but what I can say is that the exploration is off to a good start and so far, results from the analyses have encouraged Vanoil (the prospecting firm) to continue their work,” the Minister of Natural Resources, Stanislas Kamanzi, said during an interview with The New Times.

“We discovered a sedimentary basin under Lake Kivu with thickness of up to 3.5 kilometres and we are still analysing data from the 2D seismic technology to determine whether the structure of the basin is capable of holding oil.”

Using 2-Dimentional seismic technology, acoustic waves were sent to the deep seabed of Lake Kivu, which is some 400km below.

Using this method, heavy explosives are used to produce sound waves which bounce back to produce an image of the lake’s subsurface. After analysis, the date is analysed to tell whether its geological structure has any oil reserves.

“The next step is to get a detailed 2D seismic with a detailed structure, after which we will decide where to drill early next year,” the minister added.

Rwanda was inspired to search for the “black gold” after other regional countries made key discoveries.

Discoveries in Kenya and Uganda also ensured that the region cost-shares the technology for oil exploration rather than import from outside. As a result, the 2D seismic equipment used on L. Kivu was sourced from Kenya.

“Rwanda is in the Great Rift Valley Basin just like Kenya and Uganda and we have a similar geological structure. The fact that there are discoveries in Uganda and Kenya in areas with the same geological structure, gave Rwanda motivation to begin its own oil search,” an official from the ministry said.

Patience is important in prospecting issues, he added.

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