Kenya’s Indian Ocean oil dream fades as test drilling gives negative results

Tuesday March 29 2022
Offshore Oil

Results of the exploration released by Italian energy group Eni, show that the well proved nonviable and was to be “plugged” and “abandoned,” after it failed to hit commercial oil reserves. PHOTO | COURTESY


Mlima-1, the well in the Lamu Basin, off Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast recently touted as the country’s first offshore oil strike, is commercially unviable.

Results of the exploration released by Italian energy group Eni, show that the well proved nonviable and was to be “plugged” and “abandoned,” after it failed to hit commercial oil reserves.

The result has dealt a blow to Kenya’s hopes of being a commercial offshore oil-producing country. While production was years off even in the event of a big oil discovery, the latest results have killed Kenya’s dreams of exploiting what is believed to be huge offshore oil and gas deposits for now.

Geological and seismic surveys show that between four billion and 4.5 billion barrels of oil could be laying deep under the waters of the Indian Ocean. Early data had indicated the existence of oil reserves, what is technically referred to as ‘‘an active petroleum system’’ in the area.

The well in the Lamu Basin had been widely tipped to offer Kenya another chance at becoming an oil producer, a decade after British exploration firm Tullow Oil made Kenya’s first oil find in Turkana County’s South Lokichar sub-basin, which is yet to be commercialised.

The Eni well is located approximately 170km from the coast, underneath the ocean seabed where Eni has been prospecting and drilling for oil. Eni’s drillship, SAIPEM 12000, has been on location within Block L11B since late December 2021.


The drilling was delayed by a number of factors including requirements to comply with Ministry of Health Covid-19 protocols.

Oil and gas explorers use seismic surveys to produce detailed images of the various rock types and the location beneath the earth’s surface and to determine the location and size of potential oil and gas reservoirs.

A positive strike at the well in the Lamu Basin would have intensified Kenya’s on it’s maritime borders amid a maritime border row with Somalia. The basin lies within the disputed territory.

Tullow has been under pressure from Kenya to develop the Turkana oil wells that it expects to produce up to 120,000 barrels per day once production starts.

Tullow and its partners in the project, Africa Oil and Total, had initially planned to reach a final investment decision in 2019 and production of the first oil between this year and next year.

In October last year, Tullow presented a revised Field Development Plan for oil in the Turkana oil fields to the government of Kenya just in time to beat the set deadline of December 2021.

Had the plan not been submitted in time, then they would have risked losing concession on their exploration block as stipulated in the production sharing contract.

The British firm expects to recover 585 million barrels of oil from the project over the full life of the field.

The commercially extractable volume for the Turkana South Lokichar basin rose to 585 million barrels from the previous estimate of 433 million barrels, according to British petroleum consulting firm Gaffney Cline Associates.