Impact And Legacy Of Gabriel Obiang Lima
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Brilliant, focused, and passionate about his job, Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima was for some eleven years, one of the most articulate voices on continental wide energy priorities. Serving as Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons, he overhauled the energy sector in his country Equatorial Guinea. Small in size and population, Equatorial Guinea is today a global actor when it comes to the energy sector.
Despite a supercharged schedule with country, continentwide and global duties he was saddled with, Minister Gabriel Obiang Lima fielded questions from PAV. A few days after the interview and as we were still putting together the February issue of PAV magazine, Minister Obiang Lima was moved to the Ministry of Economy and Planning. Considering the poignancy of issues raised and the vision shared, what is now Obiang Lima’s exit interview from the frontlines of the energy scene sheds light on his legacy and a roadmap for his successor and other comrade in arms in the movement to kick energy poverty out of Africa.
May we start this interview with the oil and gas potential of Equatorial Guinea as it stands now?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: Equatorial Guinea has 1.1 billion of proven crude oil reserves and over 1.5 trillion of proven natural gas reserves, most of which remains untapped. With a number of exploration programs underway, by both independent explorers and global majors, our proven reserve base is set to expand. In addition, we also have large oil and gas discoveries, such as Fortuna and Zafiro, which we will be developing to enhance production capacity. With the demand for energy growing locally, regionally and at global scale, the resources we have and the many yet to be discovered following the commencement of new drilling campaigns, continue to make a strong case for foreign investment while attracting a strong slate of new players to the market.
Enhancing the country’s attractiveness even further will be the new Hydrocarbon Law. To date, we are finalizing this new piece of legislation which will lay the foundation for accelerated energy sector expansion. As we continue to make progress towards the creation of a Gas Mega Hub in Equatorial Guinea, opportunities for energy players from across the entire value chain continue to expand. Equatorial Guinea’s potential continues to grow, and we are excited to welcome new investors to help grow the market even further.
You have been Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons for quite a while, what are some of the key reforms that you have brought into the Energy Sector?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: My contribution towards the revitalization and growth of Equatorial Guinea’s energy sector did not only start when I became minister in 2012, but rather, back in 1997 when I entered the industry as a negotiator for product sharing contracts and Presidential Advisor for Hydrocarbons before serving as the Secretary of State for Mines and Hydrocarbons. However, Equatorial Guinea’s energy environment today and over the past few years when I became minister is no longer the way it was decades ago, a lot of changes have happened and activities, investments and infrastructure developments across the entire hydrocarbon value chain have improved owing to the various reforms we have enacted. We have enhanced fiscal terms for energy firms – hence we now have more global majors and international companies exploring and producing in the country. Through the Gas Mega Hub, we are seeking to accelerate the development and exploitation of the region’s natural gas resources. Through the Year of Energy 2019 and Year of Investment 2020 initiatives, we have managed to increase international investments to drive the growth of the oil and gas sector in the country, leading to the country securing up to $1 billion in foreign direct investment as well as the construction of two refineries.
Local content development is at the heart of everything we do as a Ministry, and the reason why we have contributed towards passing various capacity building laws and driving new regional local content partnerships with African countries such as Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Equatorial Guinea’s dream is to see an Africa that is inter-connected. Therefore, together with APPO, we are leading the implementation of the Central African Pipeline System to enhance intra-Africa energy trading to address energy poverty across the central African region and continent at wide.
Minister Obiang Lima has been one of the most vocal voices from Africa on the energy debate, what is at stake for Equatorial Guinea and Africa when it comes to debate on abandoning fossil fuels?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: Africa cannot afford and is not ready to abandon its fossil fuels. By leaving the estimated 125.3 billion barrels of crude oil and 620 trillion cubic feet of gas in the ground, Africa will be losing the opportunity to make energy poverty history, industrialize economies while driving socioeconomic development. Currently, the continent has 600 million people living without access to electricity and over 900 million people without access to clean cooking solutions, and fossil fuels represent the way forward for the continent to meet its growing energy demand, drive gross domestic product growth and to raise the investments required to diversify the energy mix for energy sector resilience. Developed nations have had the chance to develop on the back of oil and gas, and now, it is Africa’s turn to do the same with our resources.
When you interact with other key energy players across the continent, do you get the feeling that Africa is on the same page when it comes to defending and protecting its interests in the energy debate?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: Africa is united when it comes to promoting the way forward regarding developing both the energy sector and wider economy. As a continent, we are not against renewable energies, but are simply saying that in order to develop, we need to utilize all of our resources, including oil, gas, wind, solar, hydrogen, coal. Oil and gas are the continent’s resources of choice to usher in a new era of energy security and independence. Both members and non-members of OPEC and the GECF across the continent are on the same page: that Africa needs to maximize the development and exploitation of its hydrocarbon resources if we are to alleviate energy poverty and address the high energy costs and fuel shortages resulting from the overdependence on energy imports from international markets.
For all its oil and energy resources, there is also the question as to how well the proceeds have been used, how efficiently has your country been putting proceeds from oil and gas to meet development needs?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: Equatorial Guinea’s economic growth is expected to see a positive trajectory through 2024 on the back of the successful monetization of hydrocarbons, specifically gas. This alone shows how well we are directing oil and gas profits to support the wider economy. Equatorial Guinea is one of the few African countries with refineries and LNG export terminals which we have built using energy revenues. By redirecting the revenue we have generated from exports into key sectors of the economy, we continue to scale up the development of a number of industries. From infrastructure to agriculture to education to manufacturing, Equatorial Guinea’s economy has and will continue to thrive on the back of oil and gas.
You were recently in Washington DC for the USA-African Leaders summit. What was your general take on the summit, and with regards to energy issues, were you satisfied with the way the summit handled them?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: The U.S-Africa Leaders’ Summit provided an ideal platform for Africa to promote its stance on oil and gas development, while engaging directly with U.S leaders and investors. In the same way in which the U.S is not ready to abandon its oil and gas resources for energy security, Africa is not ready to abandon the very resources that will enable us to develop, industrialize and thrive. During the summit, we made clear our position on the energy transition, oil and gas and what Africa needs to grow.
This year, Minister Obiang Lima will be handling very important international roles including serving as President of GECF and OPEC. How prepared are you for these responsibilities and what should Africa and the world expect from your leadership?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: Most of OPEC and GECF member countries are African, and considering that by 2030 the continent is expected to contribute the largest amount of oil and gas to meet growing energy demand, I hope to capitalize on Equatorial Guinea’s presidency of OPEC and GECF to help the continent maximize the acquisition of investments, skills and technology required to secure future oil and gas developments. In 2023, both OPEC and GECF will continue to ensure the stability of the global energy market. OPEC will continue to leverage market data to shape global energy reliability and supply while the GECF will help drive new investments across gas-rich nations. Additionally, with many African countries set to discover their own oil and gas resources, another key priority of OPEC and the GECF is to make a case for new members to join these organizations, promoting integration and collaboration as the ideal way forward.
What role do you think organizations like the African Energy Chamber and the African Energy Week have been playing to facilitate your vision and the ambition of making energy poverty history in Africa?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima : The African Energy Chamber has been instrumental in connecting not only Equatorial Guinea but African oil producing countries and their respective market players and policymakers with global financiers. What Africa needs now to optimize oil and gas development is new investment, and both the Chamber and the African Energy Week conference have been crucial in driving new investments as well as private sector participation in the sector. With African Energy Week 2023 focusing more on improved cooperation among African countries on local content and infrastructure development, Africa’s energy sector is set to see rapid expansion on the back of improved regional cooperation.
The African Energy Chamber has announced the 3rd edition of the African Energy Week for October, does Minister Obiang Lima plan to answer present as he has done in previous editions?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: 2022 was an important year for Equatorial Guinea’s energy sector and 2023 will see this trend continue with us conducting more dialogue and deal signings to enhance exploration, production and infrastructure development in close collaboration with global players. African Energy Week presents an ideal platform where we will showcase Equatorial Guinea’s development strategy while networking with industry players. As the president of OPEC and GECF, the conference represents a critical platform for me to present and discuss industry trends with market players.
Are there any other key energy developments, opportunities and perspectives that investors should be on the lookout for in Equatorial Guinea this year?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: We have new drilling activities in Block G and we are also seeking new investors as well as a developer for Fortuna. We are also committed towards progressing on the development of the Gas Mega Hub and the Central African Gas Pipeline project. As we continue to expand reserves and fast forward the development of recent discoveries, we also have a mandate to reinvest in dozens of existing wells which have not yet reached their lifespan but have the potential to boost production capacity.
A last question on the future, what other options does Africa have in owning its energy future and focusing on its priorities if the rest of the world, especially the big funders continue to look the other way?
Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima: Africa needs to develop its own oil and gas market which will rely on the use of local energy resources to meet growing energy demand. The establishment of the African Energy Transition Bank by Afreximbank is a major milestone in unlocking the pivotal role African financial solutions can play in boosting oil and gas developments across the continent. Additionally, we need to drill more oil and gas wells, accelerate the development of LNG export and import terminals, build more refineries and gas-to-power plants. I also see the potential for improved collaboration on energy trading and investment with the Middle East and Asian countries.
*Culled from February Issue Of PAV Magazine