This article was originally published in the Africa Energy Series: Equatorial Guinea book.
Interview with H.E. Atanasio Ela Ntugu Nsa, Former Minister of Mines,
Industry and Energy (2004-2008) Republic of Equatorial Guinea
How has the energy landscape evolved since your time as minister?
I was the first minister to have all the different responsibilities under one ministry. To be fair, the changes in the industry in our country as of August 3, 1979 can all be attributed to the president. It was the “coup for liberty.” He opened the space for us and we executed his vision. I headed a group of people to achieve that; one of them is the current minister. Together with him and a team of highly skilled professionals, we were able to execute this vision and improve the landscape of energy and mines. This resulted in important improvements in the energy sector and in the economy of the country.
Some of the main successes since then have included: launching the first LNG train with EG LNG, in which the state is a 25 percent shareholder. I am particularly proud of that, because before I was minister, I was selected by the minister at the time to negotiate this project. EG LNG has truly been a success, a couple of years ago the full investment was regained, and I am very content with that.
Second was the implementation of national content policy in the hydrocarbon sector. This was an innovation that we implemented very soon after I became minister. I entered in June and before December we had organized the first forum for national content. I had experienced how Trinidad and Tobago organized its sector, and there I saw how a national petroleum company worked.
When I took the job of minister, I realized that we had to get workers from other countries to work on the platforms and in the oil companies. They told me that was because there were no skilled workers in Equatorial Guinea. That was when I decided to organize a forum to make sure that Equatoguineans would work in all levels of the gas industry.
After that, we also started working on the hydrocarbons technical institute, to teach students the things they need to work in the oil and gas industry. To this day, we see the effects of having this forum – the current minister today is following the policy that we set up because it brings a lot of results.
Within the forum, we created a hydrocarbons technical institute and with the help of several companies, we are making sure we offer locals the possibility to work in this industry. The current minister is now working on getting the institute recognized as an official university. The alumni are all working in this sector in all different levels. I think that this has been one of the main successes.
Next to this, in Trinidad and Tobago, we saw how a state-owned gas company can work. So when we returned, we did everything to set this up here as well. GEPetrol is now functioning, and the state owns assets in the gas and oil industry.
Which companies have had a particularly big impact on the sector and on the economy?
Marathon Oil built a lot of assets and also brought in other companies active in the production of gas. Marathon’s Alba field is important because it gave us our first barrel of petroleum, though Marathon was not the operator at the time it was discovered. ExxonMobil is also very important due to Block B, which is the area that has really given us a lot of wealth.
What are the economic improvements that you would credit to the energy industry?
There are many improvements that have been crucial for the economy. For example, maintaining a high level of production via a policy of intensive exploration. Acquiring Devon’s blocks has been one of the main motors for the economy, because that ultimately led to monetizing the gas in the Alba field.
The execution of power generation projects has also been one of the main improvements. Luckily, we have a president that had a special vision for this. He has made sure that all the benefits that came from the petroleum sector would go into public investments like new roads, harbors, etc., to improve the country.
Which new companies are making a difference now?
Right now, in Block R, we are working on the production of a floating LNG platform with Ophir Energy, and they are using very advanced techniques. Equatorial Guinea is pioneering in Africa in that area. And I think that there are new companies that are advancing on a technical level. The longstanding partners are continuing to produce, as well.
Where does Equatorial Guinea stand in reaching its mid term and long term goals?
I think that right now, Equatorial Guinea is in a moment of transition. We were in a situation of economic crisis, and that was in part due to the global crisis in oil prices. We depend heavily on the production of petroleum. So when the price of oil decreases drastically, we have a problem. We had to reduce some of the financing for construction. Right now we are slowly recuperating since the price per barrel is slowly going up.
Even though the recuperation is slow, I think that by 2020 things will have improved. How fast the economy will recover I don’t know, but I think that the country is moving forward, and there is hope now. The government takes this very seriously. They are looking for ways to increase national income, and are avoiding corruption. We will soon be back to growth.