The Oil and the Glory

Mozambique’s bonanza feeds evidence of a coming cleaner China

Mozambique’s bonanza feeds evidence of a coming cleaner China

Mozambique is the world’s newest petro-state. U.S. and Italian companies say they have found the natural gas equivalent of more than 4 billion barrels of oil offshore from the southeast African country.

The news is larger than Mozambique, as we see again that long stretches of the African continent from north to south on both coasts appear to be swimming in oil and natural gas. The geologic structures are so rich that drillers have sought and found analogues across the Atlantic in French Guiana.

Until this month, Mozambique attracted publicity for an outbreak of rhinoceros poaching (South African counter-poaching squad on the Mozambique border pictured above), but not much for oil or gas. Now Italy’s Eni says it’s found the gas equivalent of 2.5 billion barrels of oil in a field called Mamba (a 1-billion-barrel field is regarded as a supergiant) off of Mozambique’s coast. Earlier this month, Houston-based Anadarko announced a discovery of more than the gas equivalent of 1.5 billion barrels of oil.

In a morning note to clients, Bernstein Research said the Anadarko find could be triple the announced figure, which if true would make the Mozambique finds the natural gas equivalent of 5 billion barrels of oil. Brazil’s Petrobras has begun drilling offshore in neighboring Tanzania, too.

The idea is to ship all this fuel in the form of liquefied natural gas to Asia. It is part of what the International Energy Agency calls the "Golden Age of Gas."

As we’ve written previously, this flood of foreign supply — in addition to Beijing’s just-announced plans to subsidize domestic shale gas drilling — at some point will trigger an escalated demand response in China. Beijing already has plans to triple natural gas consumption to about 10 percent of total energy use, but that is paltry compared with its use of coal, by far the majority component of how the nation is powered. Ultimately, this bonanza of gas supply seems bound to lead to China seriously shift the coal-gas balance; the Chinese will still favor coal by a fair distance, but the gap will be narrower.

Why is that notable? Because China’s emissions of CO2 will be far less than anticipated, as the China Energy Group at Berkeley’s LBL Laboratory forecast in a study four months ago. LBL projects that China’s coal consumption could plunge to 30 percent of overall energy production, from 74 percent in 2005.