Tests show Kajiado find not natural gas

Andrew Kamau, Petroleum principal secretary. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Andrew Kamau, Petroleum principal secretary. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya’s quest to become a natural gas producer has suffered a major setback after tests on samples that were collected from a Kajiado site last year returned negative results.

Petroleum principal secretary Andrew Kamau said laboratory tests conducted in the United States found that the inflammable substance found in rural Kajiado came from a shallow buried layer of decomposed animals and plants.

“It is biogenic, no petroleum or gas. So there will be no drilling in the place,” said Mr Kamau. The study found that there was nothing underneath deep rocks that trap oil or gas deposits. The results, which effectively mean there are no hydrocarbons in Kajiado, are expected to deflate the excitement that came with discovery of the inflammable substance last year.

Excitement over a possible Kajiado gas find peaked last year after workers sinking a bore hole discovered an inflammable substance just 200 metres below the ground.

This made it a surprisingly shallow gas find compared with most discoveries that lie deep in the earth’s crust and which require drilling to depths of about 3,000 metres.

The Kajiado oil block belongs to State-owned National Oil, which was awaiting the results to decide whether to start drilling exploration wells in the location, a now abortive quest.

Kenya has mapped out 63 oil and gas exploration blocks, some of which are held by National Oil conducts exploration drilling for hydrocarbons and operates petrol stations.

Kenya contracted American oil and gas logistics giant Weatherford to analyse the samples and now preliminary results indicate the Kajiado area has no gas deposits.

Natural gas can be used to generate cheap electricity, whose cost is in the same range as geothermal power. Kenya has partly been betting on a possible gas find to help reduce gas import bill that is expected to rise steeply with the planned construction of a 700-megawatt gas-fired plant in Mombasa.

State-owned power producer KenGen also plans to convert its thermal power plants to gas-fueled plants in a move that aims to cut costs and ease the billing burden on consumers.

The barren Kajiado fields mean Kenya must now redirect its search to other possible sites such as Hadado in Wajir where preliminary studies have pointed to a likelihood of natural gas reserves.

The country could also take some comfort in the fact that Zarara Oil & Gas, registered in British Cayman Islands, is drilling gas exploration wells in Lamu’s Pate Island with plans to build a 50 megawatts power plant.

Shipment of the gas samples to the US came after Kenya conducted seismic tests in Kajiado — a process that involves picking surface vibrations to establish whether the rock formations hold oil or gas. Data generated from the tests was taken to the US labs for analysis and interpretation 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 for such tests, prompting Kenya to seek the services from the US.

The discovery had raised expectation that Kenya could soon rival neighbouring Tanzania, which struck huge reserves of natural gas and now using to generate cheaper electricity. The planned gas-fired power plant in Dongo Kundu, Mombasa had been dropped in 2016 but was revived this year.

The plan was put on ice after it received lukewarm investor response, having attracted only two bids.

Electricity from the plant will cost less than Sh10 per kilowatt hour (kWh), or half the diesel-generated power, which is currently Kenya’s expensive alternative whenever drought cuts hydropower production or a geothermal plant is shut for repair.

Kenya had earlier made arrangements to import liquefied natural gas from Qatar through ships, to fuel the plant and has now added LNG-rich Australia to that list.

Initially, Kenya was looking to build a pipeline to move natural gas from neighbouring Tanzania to Mombasa, a deal that never materialised.

Kenya has also been cautious in its quest to construct more power plants, fearing the economy could be left with excess power and force consumers to pay for capacity charges on idle plants.

This would reverse government’s quest to deliver cheaper electricity.

In July 2014, Kenya announced the discovery of commercially viable gas in Wajir after a successful exploration in Hadado, raising expectations of tapping the gas for power production.