Dinosaur fossil find sparks oil interest in northwest Kenya

16 March 2005 | 15:01 Code : 4817 Geoscience events
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NAIROBI (AFP) - The discovery of dinosaur fossils in northwest Kenya has sparked renewed interest among oil companies in searching for petroleum in the area that Shell withdrew from 13 years ago.

NAIROBI (AFP) - The discovery of dinosaur fossils in northwest Kenya has sparked renewed interest among oil companies in searching for petroleum in the area that Shell withdrew from 13 years ago.
"We have received several applications to explore for oil in that region," said Don Rairo, the chief geologist with Kenya's energy ministry. "We will issue licences if the applications are appropriate."
Rairo declined to name the interested firms, saying it could jeopardize bidding prospects for several blocks identified by the government, but noted the fossils had intrigued several large companies and numerous geologists.
"We have always believed there was oil in the region, but this dinosaur discovery reinforces our belief now," he told AFP.
Scientists on Kenya's first scientific dinosaur expedition said this week they had unearthed more than 200 fossils at Lokitaung Gorge near Lake Turkana, an area previously known for its wealth of early human remains.
John Ego, a geologist at the state-run National Oil Corporation of Kenya, said the discovery showed the region could be rich in oil, which is formed by hydrocarbons produced by decaying fossils.
"This might not actually mean that there is oil, but it is an indicator of the environment composition and since oil is made up of fossils, this boosts our hopes," he said.
The chief geologist with Kenya's environment ministry, James Ochieng, agreed.
"Since dinosaurs (were) herbivores and oil comes from plant fossils, there is a possibility that there are hydrocarbons -- compounds that produce oil -- in the region," he told AFP.
Railo said the first signs there might be oil in the area were found in the mid-1980s, after which energy giant Royal Dutch Shell won the rights to explore in Erie Springs on the western shores of Lake Turkana.
Although the company abandoned the effort for budgetary reasons in 1992, Kenyan autorities continued to believe the prospects for finding oil in the region were good, he said.
Geological research by the energy ministry showed a sufficient amount of petroleum source material -- organic carbon rocks, reservoir rocks and trap rocks -- for there to be oil in the Turkana region.
The area also neighbors southern Sudan, where vast amounts of oil are believed to be located, Rialo said.
Still, the geologists are cautious.
"There are sufficient scientific indicators that there is oil, but we cannot confirm that until we actually strike the oil itself," Ego said.
Kenya has generally not been known for having significant prospects for the discovery of fossil fuels and since 1953 only 30 oil wells have been drilled in the east African nation.
"No oil or oil deposits to justify an investment" have ever been found, according to the energy ministry.
 
 
However, in September 2003, the Australian oil and gas firm Woodside Energy began a five-million-dollar exploration project off Kenya's Indian Ocean coast after experts said there were "massive prospects" under those waters.
 

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