Sudan Plans to Start Pumping Oil in Darfur, Petroleum Minister Deng Says

Sudan is drilling its first oil well in the western region of Darfur, the site of a seven-year war, as part of its bid to boost output in sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest producer of crude, the petroleum minister said.

“If things are going well, even by December next year, there’s nothing to prevent us from having 600,000” barrels a day, Lual Deng said in an interview in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Sudan now pumps about 450,000 barrels a day, he said.

Six new wells in Southern Kordofan state, which borders Darfur, are being connected today to Sudan’s main export pipeline, adding 30,000 barrels per day, he said yesterday.

A group of companies including China’s biggest oil and gas producer, China National Petroleum Co., and Sudan’s state-run oil company, Sudapet, are drilling the well in Block 6, which extends across South Darfur state into Southern Kordofan, Deng said. Production results from the well are expected on Dec. 15, and there are plans for 19 more wells, he said.

Conflict erupted in Darfur in 2003, when rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of neglecting the region.

The conflict has led to the death of as many as 300,000 people, mainly due to illness and starvation, and forced about 2.7 million people to flee their homes, according to United Nations estimates. The government puts the death toll at about 10,000.

Exploration Studies

In North Darfur state, the Greater Sahara Petroleum Operating Co., which includes Sudapet and Ansan Wikfs (Hadramaut) Ltd., is carrying out exploration studies in Block 12A, Deng said. The oil ministry is also evaluating applications for investment in Block 12B in South Darfur state, Deng said, without giving details.

The main rebel group in the region, the Justice and Equality Movement, said it would attack oil companies in Darfur.

“We are officially threatening the Chinese and anyone else who shall try to extract oil from this region,” El Taher El Feki, chairman of JEM’s legislative council, said in a telephone interview from London yesterday. “The government uses economic revenue from oil products to buy weapons against our people in Darfur.”

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for President Umar al-Bashir, accusing him of responsibility for genocide and war crimes in Darfur. He denies the charges.

Sudan also plans to start oil production next year in Block 17, which extends across Southern Kordofan and South Darfur states and is run by Ansan Wikfs and Sudapet, Deng said.

Southern Referendum

The wells in Southern Kordofan and South Darfur states will remain in the north if oil-producing Southern Sudan votes in a Jan. 9 to secede from the country and form an independent nation. Southern Sudan currently accounts for about 80 percent of Sudan’s total production.

The referendum is the climax of a 2005 peace accord that ended a two-decade civil war, in which as many as 2 million people died, between Sudan’s Muslim north and the south, where Christianity and traditional beliefs dominate.

The landlocked south and the north, which has the country’s only oil refineries and export port in the Red Sea state, will have to reach a new agreement on how to share oil revenue if Southern Sudan secedes, Deng said. The two sides currently split proceeds from oil pumped in the south.

“It is a win-win situation. It’s not a zero sum game,” said Deng, a southerner and member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which governs the south. “The leaderships on both sides know that oil ties them together. There has to be an agreement as not to disrupt the production.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Boswell in Juba via Johannesburg at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net; Maram Mazen in Khartoum via the Cairo newsroom at 8507 or mmazen@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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