Although commercially viable oil deposits were recently confirmed in Uganda’s Albertine Graben, the search for oil the country has been ongoing for over nine decades.
Many people in the areas of Butyaba, Kibiro, Bulisa and Panymuro have for long known about the existence of oil which could be seen on some spots or oil soils in these areas of western Uganda.
Early oil exploration work
But according to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, the real hunt for oil in Uganda was in the early 1920’s when significant oil exploration was done by E.J.Wayland, a government geologist. He documented substantial amounts of hydrocarbons in the Albertine Graben.
Wayland’s efforts were followed by the first ever drilling of wells in 1938, in which some hydrocarbons were encountered in an expedition by Shell. No oil testing was done on this oil discovery and it was neglected.
It was in the 1940’s and 1950’s that further exploration was carried out and several shallow wells were drilled mainly for stratographic purposes. Despite finding viable deposits, the testing could not continue because of World War II that Uganda as a British colony was actively participating in. The war had an adverse impact on the oil discovery, making it an almost forgotten affair.
stratographic and ground surveys undertaken
Uganda had to wait until the early 1980s when the acquisition of aeromagnetic data across the entire Graben region became a reality.
The aeromagnetic surveys taken during 1983 and 1992 were able to identify five sedimentary basins in the albertine region. These were; the Albertine Graben, Lake Kyoga basin, Hoima basin, Lake Wamala basin and the Moroto-Kadam basin.
After the aeromagnetic surveys, the government undertook ground surveys which identified the most prospective sedimentary basin to date as the Albertine Graben.
This area around Lake Albert is also known as the Mid Western Region constituting the Bunyoro Kitara districts of Masindi, Hoima, Bulisa, Kibaale and Kiryandongo. Albertine Graben is located in these areas that form the northernmost part of the western arm of the East African Rift Valley. It is situated at the Uganda and Congo border further stretching to the border with Sudan.
These oil discoveries attracted oil companies interested in oil exploration and several were licensed by the government of Uganda to undertake oil drilling and exploration activities.
Oil companies licensed
Heritage Oil and gas was the first company to be lincesed by the government of Uganda in 1997 to undertake oil exploration activitiesin the Albertine basin.
The government licensed Hardman Petroleum Africa (pty) Ltd in partnership with Energy Africa Ltd (acquired by Tullow Oil) to undertake exploration activities in Northern Lake Albert basin. The license issued on the 8th October 2001.
Later, Heritage Oil and Gas ltd in partnership with Energy Africa (bought by Tullow oil) were given a license in another exploration area. The companies were issued a license on the 1st July 2004 and were are expected to carry out exploration activities on exploration area, 1 (the Packwach basin).
According to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, the southern Lake Albert basin was first licensed to Heritage Oil, but was later jointly licensed to Tullow and Heritage on the 8th September 2004.The Rhino camp basin was licensed to Neptune Petroleum (u) Ltd, on 27th September 2005.
Significant oil wells confirmed
The exploration companies that were licensed have made significant investment and oil well discoveries including Waraga, Nzizi, Mputa and Kaiso Tonya, (exploration area two) that have confirmed commercially viable oil and gas deposits.The Kingfisher well alone is estimated to contain about 500 million barrels of oil, further underpinning the potential for oil production in this region.
More oil wells continue to be discovered/ confirmed and oil production is expected to start in 2013 with an oil refinery being planned to be operational by 2015.