Eritrea is known to have a an extensive amount of gold and mineral deposits but what about petroleum and natural gas? In this article, we will take a look at Eritrea’s past and present information of oil explorations.
Much of Eritrea’s natural resources have remained untouched due to the extensive wars fought with Ethiopia. According to the historian Roy Pateman, there is a distinct possibility that the coast of Massawa contains accessbile deposits of petroleum and natural gas.
There is a distinct possibility that the Red Sea off Massawa contains accessbile deposits of petroleum and natural gas. Before 1929, there were signs that petroleum was present near Massawa. Extensive drilling on the Dahlak Islands as carried out from 1938-1940 but no drilling records have survived. A well drilled by the Mobil oil company in the Red Sea in 1969 blew out with gas and condensate. The escalation of war has prevented any further systematic exploration. Ethiopia’s [SIC] Eritrea’s only oil refinery is located in Assab. As far as other fuels are concerned, there are scattered deposits of lignite coal. (1998, Roy Pateman, p. 214)
The following is a list of oil exploration by various companies from the years of 1938 to 1977. According to Prof. Gebre Hiwet Tesfagiorgis, all wells were abandoned due to instability:
(Chart and quote below are taken from Gebre Hiwet Tesfagiorgis’ book; Emergent Eritrea: challenges of economic development, p.249 )
As shown in the Table below, all drilled wells except one were abandoned. The most recent and most promising well, C-1, was drilled by Mobil and Exxon. This well was recorded as a discovery well because a gas blowout occurred at 9,874 feet. As the term “gas blowout” implies, natural gas blew the drilling rig and fire was raging for several weeks. Although remarks on the well history record indicate that the gas blowout died before a relief well, C-1A, reached the necessary depth, two wells were drilled three years later. Massawa J-1 spudded July 5, 1973, and completed on August 27, 1973. This well is located 8 kilometers northwest of C-1. The same drilling rig, Shilloh, was moved to spud MN-1 at location 19 kilometers south of C-1 on september 1, 1973. This well was abandoned because of political unrest in the region. ( 1993, Gebre Hiwet Tesfagiorgis, p.249)
According to Reuters news agency, in 2008, Eritrea signed oil explorations with the Defba company. However, the results of their search has been thus far withheld from public knowledge.
The Government of Eritrea signed two agreements with Defba Oil Share Company on oil exploration and development. The company would undertake oil exploration activities in two blocks of the Eritrean northern territorial waters. Asmara said Defba was set up in partnership with Eritrea and the Energy Alliance Company, without elaborating. Reuters
Perhaps an inkling was given of Eritrea’s petroleum potential, when the Awsat middle eastern newspaper had asked Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki about the amount of oil within Eritrea. The president responded with, a “large reserve” of petroleum oil being present in Eritrea.
(Asharq Al-Awsat): This leads us to ask about the oil reserves in Eritrea. How much is this reserve and where have you reached?
(Isaias Afwerki): This is a subject that we do not wish to talk about until all the measures are completed and we actually begin. However, I can say that there is a large reserve but we should not talk about this without verifying all the angles for the sake of credibility. Awsat
In an interview given to Kenya’s Daily Nation, Eritrean Ambassador to Kenya Salih Omar Abdu stated that within a year’s time, oil could be struck.
Mr Abdu said Eritrea, which gained independence in 1991, is against dependence syndrome and that it was exploring for oil which could be struck by next year. The country is also rich in gold. The Daily Nation
Based on all these information, and the fact that most of Eritrea’s neighbors have petroleum oil (exception: Ethiopia and Djibouti), it would seem Eritrea does indeed have oil within its territory.