By Wahard Betha
There is need for Malawi to seize the opportunity to diversify its energy sources by, among other things, explore for oil and gas in the country’s East African Rift System whose potential for discovery of hydrocarbons has long been known.
This is contained in a keynote speech which was delivered by University of Malawi Vice Chancellor Sunduzwayo Madise at an Energy Symposium that was held at Bingu National Convention Centre in Lilongwe.
The symposium, which was held with the theme ‘Optimising Energy, Oil, and Gas Exploration and Production in Malawi,’ also marked the launch of the Centre for Strategic Studies by the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) in conjunction with Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) in collaboration with National Planning Commission.
The Centre will undertake strategic studies including geological studies that are crucial in fulfilling the Malawi 2063 Vision to transform into “An Inclusively Wealthy and Self-reliant Nation.”
Madise, however, called on all stakeholders in the extractive sector to tread cautiously and ensure that any exploration activity on Lake Malawi is guided by rigorous scientific analysis and adherence to environmental protection measures.
He said: “While exploration in other East African countries has yielded promising results, Malawi remains relatively unexplored.”
“However, we must tread cautiously, keeping in mind our commitment to environmental stewardship and the preservation of our natural heritage.”
“We must take a pragmatic and strategic approach to explore and develop our energy resources. As we venture into the potential of drilling in Lake Malawi, we are acutely aware of the environmental and ecological concerns.”
“This pristine ecosystem is home to a rich biodiversity and sustains the livelihoods of over 1.5 million people. The impact on local communities and heritage sites must be thoughtfully considered.”
Madise pointed out that Lake Malawi is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world that presents the country with both opportunities and challenges.
He said the lake’s sanctuary of biodiversity, supports unique ecosystems and provides livelihoods for millions of Malawians.
Madise said: “Any exploration and drilling activities must be conducted with utmost care and adherence to stringent environmental standards.”
“We must prioritize onshore exploration and consider directional drilling as the first choice under the lake, mitigating potential risks and ensuring the protection of this invaluable resource.”
“However, as we embark on this journey, we must also manage expectations. Oil and gas exploration is a long and complex process that requires time, investment, and global market dynamics to align favorably.”
“While we may envision substantial wealth from our natural resources, we must remain grounded in the reality of the challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead.
“We must diversify our economy and strengthen other sectors while developing our energy resources sustainably.”
Madise also explained that in as far as optimization of energy, oil, and gas exploration and production is concerned, stakeholders must also address the broader context of national development agenda.
The country’s goal of becoming an inclusively wealthy and self-reliant industrialized upper-middle-income country by 2063 relies on the three inter-linked pillars of agriculture productivity and commercialization, industrialization, and urbanization where by energy infrastructure is a key enabler for the success of these pillars.
Madise said the country needs to explore innovative solutions, establish robust partnerships, and unlock the immense potential that lies within the nation.
He said the country has to foster an environment that attracts investment, encourages research and development, and promotes sustainable practices, to ensure that the energy sector becomes a catalyst for economic growth, job creation, and social development.
He said: “We must attract investment and create an enabling environment for businesses to participate in climate-related sectors and energy projects.”
“We therefore need bankable projects which can attract both foreign and domestic investment. The private sector will not invest in projects that are not sustainable or have no economic potential.”
“Development partners’ support will also play a pivotal role in bolstering our efforts to tackle climate change and adapt to its impacts. But let us be careful lest we dance to the tune of others.”
“Ultimately, our success will be measured not only by economic growth but also by the well-being and prosperity of our people and that we must prioritize social inclusivity, equitable distribution of resources, and environmental sustainability in every step we take.”
Meanwhile, Malawi has six vacant oil and gas exploration blocks in its Great East African Rift Geological Zone after original tenement holders relinquished licenses about three years ago.
Government is yet to advertise the blocks to new investors as it has been preoccupied with developing the legal frame work for oil and gas exploration and production including coming up with a new Petroleum and Production Policy, reviewing the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act 1983 and coming up with a model Petroleum Sharing Agreement.