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St Petersburg — Nigerian oil and gas explorer Oranto Petroleum will collaborate with Russia's Rosneft in 17 African countries for the development of 21 oil assets, a company official said Thursday.

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This could be a big move for Russia's largest oil producer as it seeks to expand its limited footprint in the continent which boasts of holding more than 120 billion barrels of proven oil reserves.

"Oranto is planning a big cooperation with Rosneft, that collaboration is going to include upstream, midstream and downstream in Africa. We're looking at 21 oil assets in 17 African countries," an official from Oranto told S&P Global Platts on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum Thursday. "We are looking at how Africa is going to be a big part of Russian investment."

The official added that the company expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with Rosneft on these projects Friday.

Representatives at Rosneft were unavailable for comment.

Russia's engagement with Africa's oil sector has been low, but with oil prices picking up, the investment climate is looking more encouraging.

In Africa, Rosneft is currently engaged in the super giant Zohr gas field offshore Egypt and also has prospective projects in Mozambique.

"For us bringing Russia into Africa is really important and having Russian companies in Africa is going to be amazing...," the official said. "Rosneft has great technology and if Rosneft comes to Africa and works in Africa it means that they are bringing technology to Africa. They [will be] transferring knowledge to Africa and developing Africa."

He said Oranto was not discouraged about US sanctions on Russia and these projects will be transacted either in Naira or Rubles and not the US dollar.

"Sanctions are not an issue...Oranto doesn't have any problem. We will do business in rubles we'll do business in naira we must not do business in dollars," the official said.

Oranto Petroleum along with is sister company Atlas Petroleum International currently holds 22 oil and gas licenses in 11 African countries.

In October, Uganda issued two new oil exploration licenses to Oranto Petroleum, paving the way for the Nigerian company to start exploration activities in the country's Lake Albertine rift basin.

--Eklavya Gupte,
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--Edited by Jeremy Lovell,