With the Africa Climate Summit off the screen, we should frankly and unhindered by “climate correctness” discuss local commercialisation of Turkana oil to strengthen Kenya’s fragile foreign exchange reserves.
No country with established oil deposits is giving up or scaling down the exploitation of its oil resources in the name of climate change mitigation. National economic interests come first, and Kenya should be no different.
As long as Kenya continues to spend millions of dollars to import oil products, we should configure the quickest technical options to harness Turkana oil into our energy demands.
There is no correct prediction of how long the transition to renewable energy will take, and as long as this uncertainty persists, Kenya should maximise economic benefit from its own oil wealth.
This is as we simultaneously ride on every investment opportunity offered by renewable energy technologies.
Guided by local and regional oil and gas experience, I do not believe any financier or company will invest in Turkana crude oil export by pipeline.
Nor is it economically feasible to invest in a modern complex oil refinery. I am also convinced that Tullow Oil has no plans or capacity to invest in the Turkana oil project. And Kenya is fast running out of forex and oil price solutions.
Turkana crude oil can be burned neat without refining in any one of Kenya’s heavy industries (cement, steel, Magadi soda, sugar, tea, and IPPs ) which use imported fuel oil and coal.
However, some equipment modifications may be necessary. I participated in a 2013 Tullow Oil study for early oil, and this option was confirmed feasible.
In 2021, South Sudan commissioned a simple small scalable refinery to extract two products (diesel and fuel oil) from crude oil, with the balance fraction re-injected into export crude oil.
Kenya can benchmark similar “teapot” refineries in China and install a simple refinery at Lokichar to extract four basic products — LPG, kerosene, diesel, and fuel oil. Locally produced hydrogen can hydrotreat the products to meet global sulfur specs.
The remaining fraction of crude oil can generate thermal power for own use and injection into the grid. Some refining expertise still exists in the closed Mombasa refinery.
The above may look like a ‘hustler jua kali’ solution to a serious forex and oil price problem, but the alternative is to leave Turkana oil eternally buried, forever waiting for uninterested investors.