In the Central African region, Gabon stands out for its political stability, investor-friendly policies and enduring status as one of Africa’s most prolific oil producers
The country’s 2023-2027 economic plans are on track to usher in a new era of growth on the back of the diversification and industrialisation of the Gabonese energy sector. As Gabon gears up for its 2023 election, the ruling Parti Démocratique Gabonais (PDG) is expected to retain power and the government’s 2023-2027 economic plans look set to proceed. These plans centre on strengthening and diversifying the national economy by breathing new life into Gabon’s oil and gas industry, increasing domestic processing of raw materials, rendering industrial services more competitive, and promoting the sustainable development of natural resources.
Buoyed by political stability, an influx of foreign direct investment and growing support from international partners, Gabon is expected to become an emerging economy by 2025, with projected GDP growth of roughly 3% by the close of 2023.
Reinventing the upstream industry
Although production has been in decline since 1996, Gabon remains Africa’s fifth-largest oil producer, and the country’s large but maturing fields still have plenty of fuel in the tank. Tech-savvy international oil companies like Perenco, BW Offshore and VAALCO Energy are applying the latest secondary recovery techniques to extend a field’s lifespan and stabilise production. Marginal fields that do not fit into their portfolios present home-grown production companies, like Stream Oil Olawi, with the opportunity to move up the value chain, while maximising production from existing assets. Emphasis is also being placed on frontier exploration in Gabon’s deep offshore. Recent game-changing discoveries in Mauritania and Angola have been made in deep-water blocks with geological formations that are remarkably similar to Gabon’s, whose North Basin area is thought to contain undiscovered pre-salt deposits that could open a new chapter in the country’s hydrocarbon history.
Creating gas-based industries
While oil production has long been the lifeblood of Gabon’s economy, natural gas is emerging as a key pillar of diversification, encapsulated in the country’s Gas Master Plan that aims to reduce gas flaring, increase energy security and expand access to affordable energy. This foresees the elimination of flaring and the harnessing of Gabon’s estimated 1.2 tn cu/ft of natural gas reserves – which primarily come in the form of associated gas – to produce a range of downstream industries and a gas-based network. Perenco is leading the construction of a 700,000-ton-per-year LNG plant, which promises to enable gas exports for the first time. Meanwhile, the refining capacity of SOGARA, Gabon’s sole refiner, is in the process of being expanded from 1.2 mn tons of oil per year to 1.5 mn tons, which could make Gabon self-sufficient in refined petroleum products by 2030.
Meeting current and future energy demand
While Gabon has one of the highest urbanisation rates in Africa, 70% of the country’s south and interior remains unelectrified, inhibiting industrialisation and private sector growth. The government has stated its objective of universal electricity access by 2030, with a view to eliminating electricity imports and developing energy-intensive industries like mining, agriculture and manufacturing. Currently, around half of the electricity consumed in Gabon comes from hydroelectric generation, largely from the Grand Poubara Hydroelectric Dam (160 MW) and Kinguele Aval Hydroelectric Dam (70 MW). The construction of several solar photovoltaic power plants has also been launched in a bid to electrify rural provinces, including a 120 MWp solar plant by Solen and eight hybrid solar plants totaling 2.2 MW by Engie.
In terms of fossil fuels, gas-fired power plants operated by Perenco provide 70% of Libreville’s electricity and 100% of Port-Gentil. Projects like that resulting from Perenco’s recent MOU with Gabon Power Company – which promises to electrify 80,000 households in remote southern provinces with an eventual 50 MW of generation capacity through a new gas-fired power plant in Mayumba – demonstrate the scale of what can be achieved through investments in gas monetisation and related infrastructure. According to the African Development Bank, Gabon flares about 35 bn cu/ft of gas per year, which represents around 200 MW of electricity. Accordingly, the Gabonese power market, expected to grow by 3.4% between now and 2028, represents a promising opportunity for investors.
Leading the African energy transition
These developments and more have made Gabon a regional leader in the African energy transition. Gas monetisation is a key tenet of Gabon’s environmental policy, as it serves to eliminate flaring and capitalise on a relatively clean burning fossil fuel. Gabon is also considered to be one of the most carbon-positive countries globally, as tropical forests cover 88% of its territory and are estimated to absorb four times more carbon dioxide than it produces. In December 2022, Gabon became the first African country to make carbon credits available under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, claiming 90.6 mn tons of carbon offsets between 2010 and 2018. Coupled with the expansion of installed renewable energy generation capacity, investors are advised to take advantage of Gabon’s move towards green energy and stated plans to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2025.