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Shell tight-lipped on claims it's leaving Gabon

West Africa is developing as an emerging frontier in oil and gas for those with the mettle.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Godson Njoku, the CEO of Shell's operations in Gabon, left office in January, warning of pressures from low oil prices. Shell said to be leaving the country for good. Photo courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell.
Godson Njoku, the CEO of Shell's operations in Gabon, left office in January, warning of pressures from low oil prices. Shell said to be leaving the country for good. Photo courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell.

LIBREVILLE, Gabon, April 22 (UPI) -- Officials with Royal Dutch Shell were tight-lipped following suggestions the company may be leaving behind its onshore portfolio in emerging oil player Gabon.

Various media reports suggested the Dutch oil company was looking to reconfigure its West African portfolio by potentially unloading its assets in Gabon.

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A spokesperson for the company offered few specifics to UPI when asked about the details, other than to say the company "continuously evaluates opportunities for our global portfolio in line with our business strategy."

Offshore, Gabon's reserves are similar to Brazil's in that they're located beneath a thick layer of submarine salt. Gabon's geological similarities to Brazil raised hopes for oil production among energy explorers, but so far the region has turned up mostly natural gas.

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Two years ago, Shell, which has operated in Gabon for about 50 years, said it made what it considered a substantial discovery of natural gas in the deep waters off the coast of Gabon in its Leapord-1 frontier exploration well. The well was drilled in water more than a mile deep into a basin trapped beneath a deep layer of submarine salt.

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Italian energy company Eni and Australian company Woodside Petroleum are among the more active players in a re-emerging Gabonese oil sector. Oil production peaked in Gabon in the late 1990s.

Gabon had 2 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. Oil accounts for 65 percent of government revenue and 75 percent of export revenue, the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration reported.

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In February, Woodside built up its regional position with assets in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, which the company at the time said added to its growing portfolio of West African interests in Cameroon, Gabon and Morocco.

Godson Njoku, the CEO of Shell's operations in Gabon, stepped down in January after serving at the helm for just over two years. In his farewell address, he took note of the industry pressures from lower crude oil prices.

"These are difficult times for the companies and all employees," he said at the time. "However, we must redouble our efforts to secure the future of Shell Gabon, so that we continue to contribute to the Gabonese economy for the benefit of future generations."

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Gabon extended the call for submissions for its 11th licensing round to April 29. Gabonese Oil Minister Etienne Dieudonne said Shell's recent discovery at the Leapord well gave him "high hopes" for the future of the emerging sector.

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