Kenya is shipping samples of natural gas recently discovered in rural Kajiado to the US for laboratory tests, Energy ministry officials said.
State-owned National Oil, which owns the exploration bloc where the gas was found, said the decision was made after preliminary surveys established that the area has gas deposits.
National Oil said it had contracted American oil and gas logistics giant Weatherford to analyse the samples, and if confirmed, pave the way for drilling of wells.
The State firm last week said it had completed seismic tests in the area – a process that involves picking surface vibrations to reveal the rock formations holding oil or gas.
“We did the seismic or geological x-ray last week and generated data that is being taken to foreign labs for analysis and interpretation,” Petroleum principal secretary Andrew Kamau said.
The US tests are expected to establish the nature of the gas, quantity available and a possible presence of oil in the area.
East Africa does not have a laboratory facility for such tests, prompting Kenya to seek the services from the US. Workers sinking a borehole discovered the inflammable gas after they struck a fissure with hissing sound and confirmed its burning property by lighting a match stick.
The drillers contracted by a farmer, Joseph Melonye, had dug 200 metres in search of water for his livestock.
The discovery has raised expectation that Kenya could soon rival neighbouring Tanzania, which struck huge reserves of natural gas it is using to generate cheaper electricity.
Kenya has also discovered deposits of natural gas in Hadado, Wajir, whose extraction is yet to begin. National Oil deployed a team of geoscientists to the Kajiado site with the backing of Swiss inspection firm SGS to gather samples and prepare a report.
Mr Kamau said that should the tests confirm availability of commercial deposits, the government would invite other developers in a joint venture arrangement to inject capital and technical expertise needed to extract and process the gas. Kenya has mapped out 63 oil and gas exploration blocks, part of which is held by National Oil.
The Kajiado gas discovery has left Kipeto village residents anticipating a spike in land prices and improved fortunes. Oil exploration has been going on in Kajiado West Constituency - around Lake Magadi – with no reported success so far.
Kenya last year announced plans to convert a number of geothermal drilling rigs for oil exploration as it eyes more oil and gas finds.
Energy ministry officials said they had opened discussions that will see the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) transfer some rigs to National Oil for exploration.
“National Oil is arranging for shipment of some more samples to other internationally accredited geochemical laboratories, for purposes of undertaking isotope analysis to determine the source of the gas,” the company said in a statement.
“Such facilities are currently unavailable locally. However, National Oil is in the process of setting up a specialised laboratory that will allow us to conduct such tests and other more complex analyses.”