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Calculative search for oil resources in Burundi

For a country that consumes 1,500 barrels of oil per day, fuel crisis has pushed Burundi to start oil exploration in earnest.

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By Brian Yatich

Burundi’s energy sector is characterized by the predominance of consumption of biomass in the form of wood and Charcoal derived from their vast forest, with households being the main consumers of energy in the country, accounting for 94 per cent of total consumption.

The countries needs are almost exclusively met by traditional biomass at 99 per cent, with electricity 0.3 per cent and oil and gas products at 0.4 per cent, playing an insignificant role.

The landlocked country has no local sources of oil or natural gas and neither are there any facilities for oil refining.

Since 1993, the country’s energy infrastructure has been largely destroyed as a result of inter-ethnic conflict.

Additionally, following deepening political crisis in 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza opted to run for a third term in office, budget deficit and decreasing hard currency reserves also contributed to energy projects receiving little investment.

According to the joint UNDP/World Bank Energy sector management program, all refined oil products are imported from neighboring Kenya and Tanzania with approximately 3,000 barrels of oil is imported daily.

The report further reveals that, the review of the possible sources and supply routes confirmed that, even on the basis of the reduced figure for transport costs via Uganda, the least cost alternative would be to purchase finished products directly on the Middle East open market, unload them at Dar es Salaam, and transport them on the Tanzanian railroad to Kigoma and from there by trucks to Bujumbura.

This has proven to be extremely costly since they have to be transported over dry land.

However the government of Burundi continues to encourage oil companies to invest in petroleum exploration. Through its ministry of Energy & Mines, Burundi is reviewing the Petroleum Code, 1976 for purposes of attracting more investors.

The Mining Code covers all operations of prospecting, research, and industrial and artisanal mining exploitation, conversion, use, transport, trade, and closure of mines, involving mineral or fossil substances, thermal waters, and quarry products on the territory and in the territorial waters of Burundi, with the exception of liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons, which are governed by special laws.

There is however hopes of exploration in the country.

Exploration of oil and other hydrocarbons has started in earnest on four blocks in Lake Tanganyika and Rusizi River basins.

Rusizi River Basin is shared by Burundi, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), while Burundi and Tanzania are among the four riparian states on Lake Tanganyika. Exploration for petroleum resources is focused on an area of 2,270km², of which 1,447.5km², are offshore and 793.1km² are on shore.

“Recent satellite data indicate a possibility of oil in Rusizi and Lake Tanganyika basins. There are excellent chances of discovering oil soon,” said Burundi’s Minister for Water, Energy and Mines, Dr Samuel Ndayiragije to a regional news outlet.

Burundi is greatly dependent on the importation of petroleum products, primarily in the form of fuel oil for its road transport and industry sectors.

Agriculture, the country’s largest export earnings sector, also relies heavily on fuel oil: to operate farm equipment, to distribute agricultural inputs and to transport principal cash crops such as coffee, tea and cotton to markets.

The OPEC Fund for International Development recently signed an agreement with the Republic of Burundi for a loan of US$6 million to finance an imports program aimed at procuring petroleum products urgently needed to aid the country’s economic recovery.

“The Fund-sponsored program will help promote economic growth in Burundi by financing the procurement of gasoline, gas oil, kerosene and crude oil, all commodities essential to support increased productivity,” read the announcement in part.

In a broader sense, the program will also contribute to alleviating poverty and improving living standards among the 6.5 million populations.

According to African Hub’s sustainable energy for all, the key problem of the whole energy sector of Burundi is the scarcity of technical and management skills which affects the prospects for developing the country’s energy resources, and it also reduces the scope for effective policy-making and the planning and operations of energy producing, marketing, and consuming institutions.

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