europes gas hopes west africa

Qatar Is Not Enough: Deep in the Sea Off West Africa Lie Europe’s Gas Hopes

The energy partnership with Qatar remains vague. And so other countries are coming into focus: Senegal, for example, off whose coast a large gas field is currently being developed – and where at the same time an astonishing success story is unfolding on land.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article written in German by “Konrad Fischer“. Access the original article here.

The first ships have already arrived. Right on the sea border with Mauritania, ten kilometers from the Senegalese coastal town of Saint-Louis, they are currently carrying out the final work for what is supposed to take the country’s economy into a new sphere – and could incidentally defuse one of Europe’s most pressing problems. The pipes are in place, and three-quarters of the work on the gas loading station has already been completed, according to recent reports. Exclusive satellite images from LiveEO show the rapid progress of the project in recent months. The production of liquefied gas off the coast of West Africa is scheduled to start at the end of the year.

According to the operator BP, the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim field, in which Senegal and Mauritania also hold shares, contains a total of almost 425 billion cubic meters of natural gas. In total, up to 2.83 trillion cubic meters of gas could lie dormant there. This is significantly less than Germany’s preferred gas partner, Qatar, which has reserves totaling 24 trillion cubic meters of gas. But negotiations with the emir have been tough, and even the recently concluded energy partnership has not gone beyond general commitments. And so the realization is gaining ground that relying solely on the Gulf state will not be enough to free the country from Russia’s gas grip.

Two weeks ago, the EU Commission named Senegal, along with Angola and Nigeria, as one of the countries with which Europe now wants to intensify its relations in order to become less dependent on Russia. This is also relevant for Germany: During his visit to the capital Dakar, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Macky Sall agreed on a gas partnership. But it was probably also about the economic success story that is currently taking place here, right next to the problem state of Mali.

Under the government of President Sall, who has been in charge since 2012, Senegal has launched an investment program that is unparalleled on the continent. The satellite photos also document this.

From the air, it is easy to see that the work for gas production is fully on schedule. After the field was explored between 2014 and 2017, it was initially said that production would start in 2023, and that already seemed ambitious. After all, the gas deposits are difficult to access, and the sea above the field is a good 2.8 kilometers deep, deeper than above any other gas field in the world. But the schedule is holding, and could perhaps even be exceeded. Most recently, the operator consortium, which includes BP and the Kosmos Group, announced that production could start as early as the fourth quarter of this year.

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  • tortue ahmeyim lng project
  • tortue ahmeyim lng project loading platform
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  • tortue ahmeyim lng project 2022

Images: LiveEO/Sentinel

Large parts of the infrastructure have already been completed. The breakwater in the west, which is a good kilometer long, is clearly visible in the satellite images. It is necessary because the production station itself will not be firmly anchored in the ground, but will float. Shell has been developing this technology, called Floating Liquid Natural Gas (FLNG), since 2012 at a total cost of almost twelve billion dollars; the ship Prelude has been in operation since 2017.

Now BP is also using such a floating platform. The platform itself is not yet on site, but the preparatory work is already underway, as can be seen in the picture, with numerous pylons for mooring already locked in place. From the floating station, the liquefied gas can then be loaded and shipped all over the world starting next year.

Under the platform itself, the sea is only about 30 meters deep; the gas will be extracted almost 115 kilometers further from the shore. There, a subsea production station will retrieve the gas from the ground and feed it into a pipeline. About two-thirds of the way down, a vessel moored at the sea surface will pre-treat the gas, removing water and filtering it so it can be distributed at the FLNG station. This FPSO (Floating Production Storage and Offloading) vessel is currently under construction at a shipyard in Shanghai.

Samsung Port
Samsung Port, Shanghai, China
17.04.2022: A shipyard in Shanghai is currently building the vessel for processing the liquefied gas.
Images: LiveEO/Spot

When gas production begins at the Greater Tortue field at the end of 2022, it is likely to further fuel an awakening that is already underway in Senegal. One reason for this is that oil production will start in parallel with gas production: At the Sangomar field, about 100 kilometers south of the capital Dakar. Here, too, production is scheduled to start next year.

And here, too, the satellite images show that this could succeed:

Sangomar oil field
“Sangomar” offshore oil field, coast of Senegal
12.05.2022: This ship is currently drilling the wells for production in the Sangomar oil field south of Dakar. A total of 23 such wells are required.
Images: LiveEO/Sentinel

You can see the Black Rhino ship, which is currently preparing a total of 23 wells so that production can start at the end of the year. So very soon, the government of Macky Sall will be faced with the question of how to invest the fossil revenues as sustainably as possible. And the chances are quite good that this will work. On the one hand, because Senegal is one of the most stable democracies on the continent; since the founding of the state, all the seizures of power in the country have been peaceful. Secondly, because the country has been pushing ahead with major infrastructure investments for several years now – and has also successfully completed them.

Shortly after taking office, Sall presented his Plan Sénégal Emergent in 2014, a development plan that aims to make the country the economic center of West Africa in twenty years. Since then, construction has been underway. Roads are being renewed, highways built, new bridges erected. Recently, it was even decided to build a new deep-sea port. And about 50 kilometers east of Dakar, a new airport has already been built, as the satellite images show.

  • Dakar-Blaise-Diagne Airport
  • Dakar-Blaise-Diagne Airport 2009
  • Dakar-Blaise-Diagne Airport 2012
  • Dakar-Blaise-Diagne Airport 2014
  • Dakar-Blaise-Diagne Airport 2017
  • Dakar-Blaise-Diagne Airport 2021

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth

Where there was barren wasteland before Sall took office, Dakar-Blaise-Diagne Airport, one of the most modern airports in the country, grew within a few years. A high-speed rail line is also currently being built to connect downtown Dakar to the airport.

The first part of the route was already opened at the turn of the year, connecting Dakar with the Diamniadio business center, another core project of Salle’s development plan.

  • Diamniadio
  • Diamniadio 2013
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  • Diamniadio 2022

Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/Pleiades

Here, Sall is trying to copy a recipe that once began China’s rise as a global economic power. In a limited regional area, companies that settle there are granted tax exemption. In addition, prestigious buildings are being constructed: first a large congress center, later a soccer stadium and a basketball arena.

What is unusual about Senegal’s infrastructure projects is that, unlike some other governments on the continent, the state is not completely dependent on China. China did finance a major bridge on the Saloum River, which was completed some time ago. Otherwise, however, the financial support is mixed. In addition to development banks, well-known companies from various countries are also involved. The deep-sea port, for example, is being developed by the Dubai Ports Company, and a Turkish group has taken over the construction of the congress center.

However, the country is still waiting for the very big private-sector settlements. Annual growth rates in Senegal before the Corona pandemic were well over five percent. A few months ago, the government was able to announce a particularly high-profile success: This year, the vaccine manufacturer Biontech, together with the French Institut Pasteur, plans to start building a production facility for Covid-19 vaccines in Senegal.

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