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Kenya's first crude exports 'well received' by oil market: Tullow CEO

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Cape Town — Kenya's maiden oil exports are receiving significant interest from global refiners and the value of the low-sulfur, waxy crude should rise when larger scale piped flows begin in 2023, the head of project partners Tullow Oil said Wednesday.

Kenya sold its first-ever crude export cargo in August, with ChemChina receiving a 240,000 barrel cargo sold at a $3.5/b discount to Brent, in a boost for the country's plans of becoming a significant East Africa crude exporter in the near future.

"It's put a marker out for the crude which has been really well received," Tullow CEO Paul McDade told S&P Global Platts on the sidelines an industry event in Cape Town.

"Our expectation is that, when you are pushing it out of a pipe at much more material package sizes on a more frequent basis, we should see that discount narrow," he said.

Tullow Oil, Africa Oil and Total are developing 600 million barrels of recoverable oil at their Lokichar oilfields in northwest Kenya. The partners are currently trucking some 2,000 b/d of crude from Lokichar to Mombasa for storage at a former refinery to build volumes for export. Chinese and Indian refiners are seen as the main buyers of the crude. The partners expect the Lokichar fields to pump up to 120,000 b/d when fully developed.

Tullow and its partners are currently preparing for a second export cargo next year when it plans to tender the stored barrels at Mombasa to "the best destination with the lowest discount," he said.

McDade declined to confirm, however, official Kenyan expectations of a 500,000 barrel export cargo planned in February 2020.

"There will be a second cargo in the first half [of 2020]. If there is merit in a larger parcel size it will take a bit longer," he said.

Tullow has said it plans to farm down its 50% stake in its Kenya oil blocks ahead of taking a final investment decision on the development. McDade said in July Tullow expects to sell up to half its equity stake in the project to reduce its exposure.

UGANDA STAND-OFF

In Uganda, where Tullow and its partners have shelved a final investment decision on the major Lake Albert oil fields over a tax dispute with the government, McDade said the Total-led group still remains committed to "low-cost, very material onshore development."

"We as partners are about to invest billions of dollars in this project over 20 years, we need some definitive fiscal and contract stability," McDade said.

"If the major investors, we want to do this project [but without a fiscal deal] ... every day you're working, you're burning money."

His comments came the same day that Uganda's oil minister said the country still hopes to begin producing its first oil in 2023, but conceded that the target will be tough to meet after Total and its partners halted work developing the country's maiden oil project.

McDade ruled out the potential for Tullow to renegotiate its current farmdown deal for its 33.3% stake in the block to Total and China's CNOOC as a way of resolving the impasse.

"There is no point in us remarketing to Total and CNOOC or in the wider industry until we get that certainty over FID. Then we will step down to around 10%," he said.

OIL FOCUS

On Tullow's broader strategy, McDade said the company remains focused on exploring for oil in Africa despite a growing industry transition toward lower carbon fuels such as gas and LNG.

"We're not a company of the scale that matches up with mega LNG. That game going to be played out by the supermajors given the capital profile. Big LNG is not something we'd look to go and play in."

"In Africa, for the domestic markets, unfortunately we don't have a liquid market and commercial transparent pricing yet. I think it will come," he said.

"I think the exploration investment today we are still focused on liquids because we can make a commercial return on liquids."

McDade said he would like to shift Tullow's liquids-first policy but would need to see African countries create a more attractive domestic market for their gas.

-- Robert Perkins, robert.perkins@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Burgess, newsdesk@spglobal.com