Africa’s longest oil pipeline is taking shape in Niger

Africa’s longest oil pipeline is taking shape in Niger


Chinese and Nigerien laborers haul huge steel pipes across mounds of earth while heavily armed soldiers stand guard.

Africa’s longest oil pipeline is being built near Gaya in south-west Niger, near the border with Benin.

With a planned length of almost 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) – including 1,250 km in Niger itself – the pipeline will connect oil wells in the eastern region of Agadem, an area plagued by deadly jihadi incursions, to the Beninese port of Seme .

Climate activists are calling for an end to investments in carbon-spitting fossil fuels.

But in Niger, the poorest country in the world according to the UN Human Development Index, this project is seen as an economic lifeline.

The landlocked West African country became an oil producer in 2011. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which exploits the reserves, has pipelined oil to refineries in Zinder in south-central Niger.

For export, Niger initially planned to ship crude oil via Cameroon’s port of Kribi via neighboring Chad.

It eventually settled on the “Benini Corridor”, which ends at the northern edge of the Gulf of Guinea.

The project, which started in 2019, was supposed to be completed in 2022, but the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed it down, said Nafiou Issaka, deputy general manager of the West African Oil Pipeline Company (WAPCO).

More than 600km of pipeline has already been laid, according to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, and Niger is on track to start selling crude oil on the international market from July next year.

More than 700 soldiers have been deployed to provide security for the project, though much of the territory it traverses has so far been spared from jihadist violence, according to a security source who asked not to be named.

– “Niger’s biggest investment” –

Niger has long been a major uranium producer, ranking seventh in the world with total production of 2,248 tonnes in 2021 after a year-on-year decline over the past decade, according to the World Nuclear Association.

But uranium revenues continue to fall, and the country’s leadership is turning to oil to boost the state budget, much of which goes to fighting jihadists in the southeast and west.

Six billion dollars will be invested in the pipeline.

“It’s Niger’s biggest investment since independence” from France in 1960, said Kabirou Zakari, who heads the ministry’s oil refining department.

From 2023, oil production is expected to increase to 110,000 barrels per day, of which 90,000 barrels will be exported, Zakari told AFP.

Oil could then “generate a quarter of the country’s GDP” — more than $13.6 billion in 2020 according to the World Bank — and “represent about 50 percent of Niger’s tax revenue,” compared to four percent and 19 percent today, respectively, Zakari added .

He estimated Niger’s oil reserves at around two billion barrels. According to official projections, Niger will produce 200,000 barrels per day in 2026.

– fuel smuggling –

Algerian oil company Sonatrach has announced an “encouraging” oil discovery in Kafra, a vast 23,737 square km (9,165 sq mi) area bordering Algeria.

British company Savannah Energy, a key player in the gas industry in neighboring Nigeria, says it has also found deposits in the Agadem region, where the Chinese are already operating.

A black market in oil products is thriving in the capital, Niamey, and other major cities. A liter of gasoline (gasoline) costs 300 FCFA (40 US cents), just under half the price at the pump.

On Tuesday, Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum said fuel smuggling organized from neighboring Nigeria had become a “supply source for terrorists” and called for a crackdown.

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