Democratic Republic of Congo has awarded licences to three natural gas blocks in Lake Kivu on its eastern border, with some production expected to start as early as next year, the hydrocarbons ministry said on Monday.
The Makelele block was awarded to RED, a local subsidiary of United States-based Symbion Power, the ministry said. The Idjwi block went to another US company, Winds Exploration and Production LLC while the Lwandjofu block was won by Canada-based Alfajiri Energy.
The production sharing contracts will be signed within 15 days, hydrocarbons minister Didier Budimbu told Reuters. He said he hoped the Symbion Power block would begin producing in 2024.
DR Congo is hoping to emulate neighbouring Rwanda and use vast amounts of methane underneath the lake to generate electricity that can be used to fire fertiliser and cement manufacturing. It could also be used for household cooking.
Symbion Power's chief executive officer, Paul Hinks, told Reuters that production next year could be possible "if everything goes well."
He said the process required tapping gas that is saturated in lake water more than 400 metres below the surface.
The gas block auction was part of a licensing round that included 27 onshore oil blocks. Some of the oil blocks were in Congo’s rainforest and peatlands, raising environmental concerns.
Previous efforts by Congolese government to boost output beyond the roughly 25,000 barrels per day it has long produced along its Atlantic coast have run into logistical challenges, environmental and political risks and regulatory uncertainty in the sector.
The government says Congo has 22 billion barrels of crude reserves and it is targeting production of 200,000 barrels per day.
Mr Budimbu said the oil blocks tender was due to end on January 29 but he was considering postponing the deadline to allow the allocation of more blocks.