(EnergyAsia, August 21 2013, Wednesday) — Oil and gas companies are looking beyond Nigeria, Ghana and Angola as they scour West Africa’s smaller countries like Ivory Coat and Senegal for new offshore riches.

In April, Total E&P Côte d’Ivoire, a subsidiary of the French major, announced it found a rich layer of “high-quality oil” in the offshore Block CI-100 in the Ivorian sedimentary basin about 100km from the capital of Abidjan.

Ivorian company Yam’s Petroleum retains a 25% stake in the block after selling 60% to Total in 2010 and a further 15% to Ivorian state oil company Petroci.
Total followed up its capture of a majority stake in Block CI-100 by buying into three offshore licences, CI-514 (54%), CI-515 (45%) and CI-516 (45%).

Separately, Russia’s Lukoil, the US’s Anadarko and UK’s Tullow announced making discoveries between December 2011 and June 2012.

The new finds have boosted hopes that Ivory Coast might stop a decline in its current oil production of 35,000 b/d after peaking at 40,000 b/d in 2010.

In actively courting foreign investors, the government has set an ambitious target to raise production to 200,000 b/d by 2018.

Another West African state, Senegal, has caught the attention of US independent ConocoPhillips which has acquired a 25% stake in three offshore blocks, Rufisque, Sangomar and Sangomar Deep, owned and operated by UK’s Cairn Energy.

The Edinburgh-based firm said it will collect from ConocoPhillips a share of the costs already incurred for a 2,050-sq km seismic survey as well as future expenses when it starts drilling the first well early next year.

Cairn said it will retain operatorship and 40% interest in the blocks during the exploration phase while Petrosen, Senegal’s national oil company, will retain a 10% interest during exploration. In the event of a commercial success, ConocoPhillips would have the option to operate the future development of the resource.

Cairn Energy’s chief executive Simon Thomson said:

“This strategic farm-out means Cairn is able to intensify its plans to explore its acreage offshore Senegal, where the gross prospective block wide resource potential is estimated to be in excess of 1.5 billion barrels.”

In March, Cairn agreed to acquire a 65% stake in three blocks off the West African country from Australia’s Far Limited in exchange for funding a well and paying US$10 million for cost.