Oil production in South Africa


There’s a broad perception in South Africa that the country does not produce oil. The recent success of the Sable Mining Company is about to change all that.

An ultra-deepwater drill rig off the shores of Cape Town. (Image: Michael Elleray)

Brand South Africa reporter

On August 7 this year, oil started flowing from the Sable oil field, located 95 kilometres off South Africa’s southern coast and 150 kilometres southwest of Mossel Bay.

The opening of the Sable oil wells has effectively tripled the country’s oil production. Added to Sasol’s coal-to-petroleum contribution, 45 000 barrels per day from Mossgas and 15 000 from PetroSA’s two existing oilfields – Oribi and Oryx – it means that South Africa now produces about half its petroleum needs.

An oil rig being upgraded in Cape Town Harbour. (Image: Derek Keats)

South Africa requires roughly 570 000 barrels of oil every day.

The Sable oil field is expected to produce 20 to 25 million barrels of oil in the next three years. Initially, approximately 40 000 of the crude will be produced every day, replacing about 7% of South Africa’s import requirements for crude oil.

And from October, almost one in every 10 litres of petrol South Africans buy will have come from the giant storage tanks of Sable’s radically modified Glas Dowr vessel.

Rishi Singh, lead production technician on the vessel, told the Sunday Times newspaper: “Now, at certain stations, we’ll all be able to fill up with 100% South African. It’s a great feeling to be involved.”

The Sable field is managed and 60% owned by PetroSA, with US-based Pioneer Natural Resources holding a 40% interest. In a rationalisation of the state’s commercial interests in the oil and gas sector, Mossgas and Soekor were merged into PetroSA in 2001.

PetroSA chief executive Mpumelelo Tshume said: “A significant step has been taken by PetroSA towards realising stability as far as crude supplies are concerned for all South Africans, through Sable.”

Pioneer’s general manager in South Africa, Marek Ranoszek, told the Sunday Times: “Having ploughed US$200 million into it, we were very pleased – and relieved – I can tell you. Sable further demonstrates that South Africans are capable of tackling complex projects.”

The oil refinery in Durban processes most of the oil consumed in South Africa. (Image: John Karwocki)

The oil will be sold to local refineries, including Caltex, BP and Shell, with the profits destined for the state’s coffers.

Originally an oil tanker, the 105 000-ton Glas Dowr was refitted in Cape Town harbour at a cost of R300-million, and dropped its anchors over the field in April.

The upgrade work on the ship was an economic boon for South Africa. More than 20 South African contractors, including black economic empowerment companies, performed the work.

“We’ve been producing oil since May 1997, yet there is a wide perception that South Africa does not produce oil. I hope Sable will help to change that,” Frank van Baarsel, capital projects manager for PetroSA, told the Sunday Times.

Source: South African Ministry for Trade and Industry, South African Oil and Gas Alliance (SAOGA) 

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