Unlocking Rwanda’s energy potential: A dive into lake Kivu’s oil prospects

By Esther Muhozi
On 18 January 2024 at 07:38

In a region where neighboring countries are already tapping into their oil reservoirs, questions arise about whether Rwanda, too, possesses this valuable resource. While Uganda and Tanzania have confirmed the presence of oil within their borders, Rwanda Mines, Petroleum And Gas Board (RMB) is engaged in an extensive research endeavor to determine if oil lies beneath its territory.

Dr. Twagirashema Ivan, the Deputy CEO of RMB, recently briefed Members of Parliament on the ongoing exploration efforts. He emphasized the substantial financial investment required for such exploration, stating, "The research started a long time ago. We have started research which is also time-consuming."

The initial phase involved analyzing mud samples taken from Lake Kivu, an 800-meter long body of water. Dr. Twagirashema explained, "First, they analyze the muds under Lake Kivu... The result gives you the idea that there may be oil in the lakebed."

Building upon this analysis, RMB researchers employed technology to identify 13 potential oil-rich locations within Lake Kivu. Dr. Twagirashema clarified, "We’ve gone to the second stage now of using technology that helps to go into the interior of the Earth... It gives you proof, and tells you that in two miles of the Earth’s interior, we have found something similar to oil."

Despite the progress, the next step involves deploying a machine to the lake’s bottom to extract a sample for further analysis. However, this undertaking comes with a hefty price tag—each hole drilled costs a staggering 15 million dollars.

Dr. Twagirashema cautioned against premature optimism, noting that even if oil is present, extracting it might be more economically viable from foreign sources. He highlighted the potential challenges and expenses associated with the extraction process, stating, "One hole is 15 million dollars... getting it from underground could be more expensive than getting it from abroad."

Understanding the intricacies of oil extraction becomes essential in evaluating the feasibility of this venture. While three-quarters of the Earth is covered by water bodies, most oil and natural gas deposits are found underwater. Extracting these resources is both difficult and expensive, necessitating specialized equipment and stringent environmental precautions.

Historically, the first underwater oil drilling took place in 1986 off the coast of California, USA. Advances in drilling techniques have since evolved. In the case of Lake Kivu, Gaz Methane is the preferred method due to shared equipment requirements between the two activities.

The extraction process involves creating a deep hole underground, preparing a tank, and utilizing specialized equipment to draw oil from beneath the water. Dr. Twagirashema outlined the complexity of the process, emphasizing that the oil may sometimes be as hard as stone, requiring additional measures to facilitate extraction such as a pipe to pull it from down like someone pulling a drink using a straw.

He concluded, "The journey is in progress and has reached a certain point, but you would not confirm its existence as it is still early."

Dr. Twagirashema Ivan, the Deputy CEO of RMB, recently briefed Members of Parliament on potential exploration of oil in Lake Kivu.