Global crunch hits EA oil activities By The Citizen Reporter, Mombasa The global financial crisis and falling oil prices have adversely affected oil and gas exploration in East Africa, 4the East African Petroleum Conference was told on Wednesday. The situation had forced many companies prospecting for petroleum and other hydrocarbons in the region to either put on hold or scale down their activities, Kenya's Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi said. He urged the East African Community partner states to work together "in these difficult times" to address the crisis. Citing his country, Mr Murungi said there were currently 11 international oil companies carrying out petroleum exploration activities in 19 out of 38 exploration blocks. He said the region had a big potential for petroleum resources, but the most serious challenge had been under-investment, which had led to under-exploration, adding that there was need for the region to open its doors "very wide to all prospective investors". "There is need for accelerated exploration activities so as to establish the true level of our hydrocarbon resources," he told the conference organised by the EAC secretariat and attended by geologists and other experts from oil exploring firms, government officials and chief executive officers of oil and gas firms operating in the region. Areas with huge reserves of hydrocarbons include the Albertine Grabben in Uganda, which has vast quantities of oil and the natural gas fields of Songosongo Island, Mnazi Bay and Mkuranga in Tanzania. Natural gas from offshore Songosongo has been used for power generation in Tanzania for some years and there are plans to build a pipeline to Mombasa. Rwanda has about 250 million cubic metres of methane gas in Lake Kivu whose exploitation will start soon. In Burundi, exploration carried out so far has indicated the presence of natural gas and petrol in the Rusizi and Lake Tanganyika basins. President Mwai Kibaki said on Wednesday that East Africa had a big potential for commercially viable oil and gas, but could not exploit the resource because of lack of expertise. "Petroleum exploration, development and production are a specialised field for which we have limited expertise in the region. Capacity building, especially at this time of increased petroleum exploration activities, is therefore very crucial," he said in a speech read on his behalf by Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka. He said the region must train top scientists, engineers, lawyers and economists specialised in the petroleum industry "so as to enhance the domestic value-chain of any commercial discoveries". Mr Kibaki added that although exploration for petroleum in the sedimentary basins scattered all over the region have been on for more than 50 years and discoveries of crude oil and gas made, the level of exploration was still very low compared to other parts of the world.