Africa's role key for petroleum future: given the currently volatile profile of crude and refined oil in global trade and politics, the 18th World Petroleum Council Congress in Johannesburg assumed a more than usual significance. Associate editor Tom Nevin attended the congress.

Author:Nevin, Tom

When the world's oilmen and women, energy ministers and bureaucrats, media representatives and exhibitors packed up and departed South Africa after a mammoth get together at the 18th World Petroleum Council (WPC) Congress, they left behind a glimmer of hope that the massive reserves of oil and gas on the continent and in the seas that surround it could mean Africa's escape from poverty, or signal at least a significant step towards its eradication.

However, delegates warned, the billions of foreign dollars waiting to be invested in Africa's oil and gas industry should be used for advancing the continental economy and uplifting the lives of Africa's millions of poor and not be allowed to be squandered by corrupt politicians and businesspeople.

The WPC, held in the rough waters of the Katrina and Rita aftermath, centred on the oil price crisis and was marked by sideshow calls for more transparency in the sector, better governance and, to a lesser extent, the need to identify and develop alternative, renewable energy sources.

The event, its first time in Africa, attracted nearly 4,000 delegates from across the world--most of whom were specialists and pioneers in the petroleum sector, including 200 industry executives, 30 ministers, 300 junior professionals and over 500 speakers.

Held at Johannesburg's Sandton Convention Centre from 26 to 29 September, the WPC had hoped to wind up with solutions affecting the petroleum industry, especially the bottlenecks choking finished fuel flows from refineries and how Africa can play an ever more critical role in global supplies.


Unexpectedly the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) came in for some rough handling amidst charges that it was less than transparent in providing production volumes and that it manipulated prices by tweaking members' production quotas.

This event was hosted by PetroSA--South Africa's national oil company--along with four leading oil producing African countries: Nigeria, Angola, Libya and Algeria.

No quick retreat from high prices

The president of the WPC, Dr Eivald Roren, set the conference's tone by asserting at the opening session that the world has found a new price level and that it was one from which there would be no quick and easy retreat. "There will always be ups and downs," he said, "but we have to get used to these new price levels. There will be no going back to the days of paying $18 a barrel."

With that in mind, the WPC got down to work on a full programme of discussions of political, commercial and technical nature.

There is no such thing as an oil price that is too high for oil companies and most announced expansion plans in domestic and far-flung oilfields, including those in north, west, south and east Africa, are being funded by the current heyday price bonanza.

Africa is home to about 9% of known global reserves, but its fossil-fuel...

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