Archive for 'January 2011'

    Chevron underwrites operational costs for Grameen America

    January 27, 2011 2:15 PM by Eric Watkins
    Last week, we wrote of efforts by ExxonMobil to improve life in Africa, especially in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

    This week, attention comes back to the US where Chevron Corp has committed $1 million to Grameen America, an innovative microfinance organization founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus.

    Grameen America provides small loans, known as “microloans” and other financial services to individuals living below the US poverty line who want to start or grow a small business.

    Grameen America relies on the Grameen lending model developed over 30 years by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.

    Grameen America has been successfully working in the US since 2008, so far funding 5,000 borrowers and lending out more than $13 million in microloans, averaging $1,500 each.

    Chevron said its donation will support the launch of Grameen America's first West Coast branch in the San Francisco Bay Area by funding Grameen America's operational costs.

    Microlending meets a unique need in the Bay Area, where unemployment numbers made the second largest year-over-year increase in the nation. The Bay Area unemployment rate hovers at approximately 10%.

    Grameen America anticipates helping as many as 250 local borrowers and distributing more than $300,000 in microloans the first year of operation through its Bay Area branch.

    "The economic slowdown has made it especially difficult to secure funding for Bay Area small businesses and entrepreneurs, often a catalyst for job creation and economic growth for the state," said Stephen Vogel, CEO of Grameen America.

    "Chevron's support will help hundreds of entrepreneurs realize their dreams of starting their own businesses," said Vogel.

    "The success of our company is tied directly to the economic health of our community," said Rhonda Zygocki, vice president of policy, government and public affairs for Chevron. "We believe Grameen will help create economic opportunities for people that wouldn't exist otherwise."

    Contact Eric Watkins at

    ExxonMobil fights malaria in Africa

    January 20, 2011 2:21 PM by Eric Watkins
    Recent headlines have underscored efforts of the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), determined to end what it sees as the exploitation of the region’s resources by international oil companies operating together with the government.

    But little has been said about the good going on there, too, especially the part played by IOCs.

    Recently, though, ExxonMobil Corp was heralded for its efforts to fight malaria in Nigeria, as well as other parts of Africa. The word came from Africare President Darius Mans who announced new investments from ExxonMobil to extend their partnership in its fight against malaria.

    ExxonMobil, which has long been a supporter of Africare, will fund three key malaria prevention and intervention programs in Africa.

    “ExxonMobil has been an invaluable partner to bettering the lives of those living in Africa,” said Mans. “The company's contributions – including not just funds, but their efforts to provide on-the-ground support, lend business expertise and increase the world’s awareness of the scourge of malaria – have saved countless lives on the continent.”

    The new grants, which total $1,425,000, will enable thousands of additional children and families in Africa to receive the necessary care for managing malaria.

    * The new pilot Malaria Prevention Promotion in Nigeria will reach more than 75,000 local contractors and suppliers and their families in the Delta region of the country with a package of malaria prevention, treatment and vector control services. The program also includes a media campaign to educate thousands more people in the same area about malaria prevention.

    * Through a network of more than 2,000 community volunteers working with the Caconda Community-Based Malaria Intervention program, approximately 35,000 families in Angola will receive training and assistance to manage malaria in their homes, including educational materials, bed nets and access to medical treatment.

    * An additional 600 volunteers – to a total of 2,640 – will be selected and trained to reach families with health education through the Angola Community Malaria Program. Volunteers are expected to reach 550,000 children under the age of five and women of child-bearing age via 51,000 house visits, health talks, plays and drama shows, and visits to traditional healers and community leaders.

    “Africare is one of our long standing partners in the fight against malaria. As one of the largest private foreign investors in Africa, we know first-hand the health and economic impacts that malaria can have on the workforce, their families and the communities where they operate,” said ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson. “We want to ensure that families have access to the proper prevention and care, especially in the most vulnerable communities.”

    MEND? ExxonMobil is clearly doing more to mend the situation in Nigeria than the militants.

    Contact Eric Watkins at

    Pipeline impasse delays production in Uganda

    January 12, 2011 8:41 AM by Eric Watkins
    What’s going on in Uganda these days? For months, we heard nothing but exciting news about the country’s oil prospects. Then, suddenly, everything came to a screeching halt when Heritage Oil decided to sell its stakes in two blocks.

    The sale initially was made to Eni SPA, but Tullow Oil – Heritage’s erstwhile partner in the two blocks – exercised its right of pre-emption and decided to pick up the stakes. Its plan was to farm them out to Total SA and CNOOC.

    But the plans of mice and men often do go awry, as the poet said, and in this case Tullow’s plans went right off-track when the government of Uganda decided to block them. The problem? Money.

    Kampala insisted that it was owed a substantial amount of money in the form of capital gains tax – a tax that Heritage did not -- and does not -- feel responsible for paying. As a result, there’s been a stand-off, with less news emerging about oil and more about lawsuits and arbitration in foreign courts.

    Now, we learn that another problem has crept up to impede development in Uganda – the lack of infrastructure. That view emerged earlier this week at an investors’ conference held by Tullow’s Uganda manager Brian Glover.

    Glover was quite clear in announcing that Tullow Oil’s exploration efforts have been “phenomenally successful.” But he was no less clear in saying that poor infrastructure in the region meant a delay in producing the country’s oil.

    For infrastructure, we really should substitute the word ?pipeline’ for that has been a sticking point between the two sides for a long time now. In the view of Tullow, Uganda would do well to construct a pipeline through Kenya to transport its crude oil to markets.

    But that’s not the view of Uganda’s government which sees more potential upside for the country in constructing an oil refinery that would process the country’s newly found oil into products for the region.

    Yet, something else has to be remembered.

    Prior to Tullow’s exploration success, efforts were underway to develop a pipeline between Kenya and Uganda. That pipeline was to have carried oil products from Kenya to Uganda.

    But Tullow’s success has put paid to that idea. With an estimated 2.5 billion bbl of recoverable oil, Uganda now has no need of a pipeline coming into the country with products.

    Still, Kenya and the earlier pipeline project cannot simply be dismissed out of hand. After all, if Uganda wants to move its oil to market – whether in the form of crude or products – it most likely will require transit rights all the way through Kenya, right down to the Port of Mombasa.

    That’s clearly a job for regional oil diplomacy, as Tullow’s Glover pointed out in his investors’ conference. "This is not just a Ugandan project. This is an east African project," Glover said, adding that “without the supply chain in place, we are not going to be able to get this done.”

    For supply chain, read pipeline.

    Contact Eric Watkins at

    Is Brazil really going to auction the pre-salt region?

    January 4, 2011 3:54 PM by Eric Watkins
    Brazil continues to titillate potential buyers with its slow release of news about upcoming auctions – especially for the highly touted pre-salt region. But will the pre-salt region ever come under the hammer?

    Brazil’s Minister of Energy and Mines Edison Lobao said his country will hold its first auction of pre-salt oil and gas blocks this year under the new production-sharing regime approved recently by congress.

    Lobao, who has been reappointed minister in the new government of President Dilma Rousseff, also said that Brazil will hold an 11th round auction of concessions for non pre-salt oil blocks – the first auction to be held in Brazil since 2008.

    But was Lobao saying more than he was authorized to say?

    Apparently, final approval for the auctions is still required from the country's Conselho Nacional de Política Energética (CNPE), according to a spokesman for the Agencia Nacional do Petroleo (ANP).

    Still, even the ANP spokesman nudged the news along, saying that the first pre-salt auction is expected to include some of the reserves discovered in the Libra field, which the ANP recently estimated as holding recoverable reserves of 3.7- 15 billion boe.

    That’s an unusually broad range, and especially so given the fact that the estimate was based on a single, partially-drilled well.

    Meanwhile, in the run-up to any auction, Brazil continues to tout the successes achieved in the pre-salt region.

    Brazil’s state-run Petroleo Brazileiro SA (Petrobras) submitted a declaration of commerciality for the Tupi and Iracema areas to the ANP, saying that the total recoverable volume is 8.3 billion boe for the two fields: 6.5 billion boe for Tupi and 1.8 billion boe for Iracema.

    “The exploratory success achieved in the area represents the high potential of pre-salt, which is already contributing to the growth of the company's production curve and of its oil and gas reserves,” Petrobras said.

    Does that sound like an advertisement for the coming pre-salt auction? You can be sure of that as Brazil wants the maximum buck for any rights it sells to develop what claims is the slam-dunk potential of the pre-salt region.

    After all, it is not just going to give the stuff away! What would that tell the country’s long-suffering poor – and their representatives in Congress – who are expecting new regulations to bring them unparalleled benefits?

    Still, not everyone is onboard with Brazil’s figures – a point underlined by Petrobras itself which recently criticized partner BG for announcing estimated reserves considerably lower than those of the state-run firm (OGJ Online, Dec. 20, 2010).

    There’s a fly in every ointment.

    Contact Eric Watkins at
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