Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents


Petroleum and Other Fuels

In 1956 exploration began of the Atlantic coastal basin, the most accessible of Zaire's petroleum reserves. Offshore oil production began in 1975, while onshore production started in 1979. Chevron-Gulf led a consortium controlling offshore production, while a Belgian concern had the onshore concession. In June 1992, the Zairian government seized the assets of United States and European oil companies operating in Zaire in order to relieve fuel shortages. The Zairian government, avoiding use of the word nationalization, promised compensation and insisted that the measure was temporary.

Until the late 1980s, Zaire's petroleum reserves were small by world standards but larger than those of many countries in subSaharan Africa. In the early 1990s, oil reserves were estimated at 140 million barrels. It seems likely that these reserves will be exhausted unless continuing onshore exploration near the border with Uganda and Tanzania is successful.

Because domestic production is a heavy crude best suited for fuel oil, all of it is exported for refining. Production was 10.7 million barrels in 1988, down from previous years, 9.9 million barrels in 1989, some 10.9 million barrels in 1990, and 9.9 million barrels in 1991. Gas-injection techniques are used in the oldest onshore fields to increase petroleum production.

Petroleum consumption since the late 1970s has remained fairly constant; limited availability of foreign exchange is the main constraint on increased purchases. Indeed, as reserves of foreign exchange began to dwindle in the 1990s, Zaire suffered an acute gasoline shortage. Shortages also were due to riots and looting. In addition, Zaire's poor road and rail network restricts supply to outlying areas (see Transportation and Telecommunications , this ch.). In June 1985, PetroZa´re, the national petroleum company, lost its import monopoly for fuel and other finished petroleum products, and at the same time the government removed price controls. Supply and distribution improved gradually. Zaire imports all of the petroleum that it refines because its sole refinery, located in Moanda on the Atlantic Coast, is not designed to handle the heavy crude produced domestically. The government has been unable to secure financial backing to overhaul the plant so that it can refine heavy Zairian crude. As a result, the refinery is forced to operate solely on small quantities of crude oil imported from Nigeria. The refinery has an installed capacity of 750,000 tons per year, but in 1986 processed under 90,000 tons.

Domestic coal sources are all of low grade. Located in central and northeast Shaba Region, coal is used entirely by a cement plant at Kalemie. Production was estimated at 123,000 tons in 1988; it increased to 125,000 tons in 1989 and 126,000 tons in 1990. Higher grade coal and coke needed for the metallurgical industry are imported.

Fuelwood and charcoal are by far the most heavily consumed energy sources in Zaire, used primarily for household cooking. But there is no organized supply of fuelwood in urban areas, and population growth in urban areas, such as Kinshasa, has contributed to deforestation. The price of charcoal has risen because it has to be trucked in to urban centers from ever greater distances. The steady price increases have constrained growth in small-scale industries that use wood, such as fish smoking, and have put pressure on household budgets. Moreover, the use of wood exceeds regrowth of forests, and reforestation efforts have been slow.

Data as of December 1993