The Africa Oil Week conference in Cape Town got a taste of Texas or even a little slice of Hollywood this month, with the presence of US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry as a guest of honor perplexed and impressed delegates.
“Why is he here? It can’t be that straightforward?”
“Why will he come to an African oil event? There must be some other reason he is here.”
“He is such a busy man, why would he come here?”
These were some of the reactions I got when I asked some delegates what they thought of Perry’s presence at an event that was focused primarily on the African upstream industry.
His first speech on Monday was delivered during a social event at the Two Oceans Aquarium, and he made sure to use the “swimming with the [oil] sharks” quote. Incidentally, he was near an actual shark tank when he said this.
The next day, in his speech America’s New Energy Bounty: Freedom and Security, Perry did answer why he was here, by proclaiming that the US’ “energy arsenal” was here to empower Africa through “energy transformation.”
Perry was accompanied by a sizable contingent from the Department of Energy to, as he said, “advance mutually beneficial safe and sustainable energy development” with allies in South Africa and across the continent.
President Donald Trump’s administration has not been actively involved with African affairs. Which is what makes this sudden focus by Perry somewhat surprising. But energy diplomacy is not new after all.
The African continent, especially the oil and gas producers, can definitely learn and be inspired by the dramatic rise in the US energy sector, which has transformed itself and is now a significant producer and exporter of crude oil, gas, condensates, natural gas, refined petroleum products, LNG and petrochemicals.
Perry said that Africa could learn from the US, which used to be dependent on other countries for its energy needs, but has now “become an energy-abundant country” and plans to export to “our friends”.
The department of energy held a half-day workshop on LNG and natural gas, and published a blueprint for African countries to follow to become leading exporters of natural gas and LNG.
Some analysts have said that Africa could become a huge recipient of American natural gas exports in the medium to long term. Maybe this could be a way for the US to broaden its customer base to Africa, where demand is only going up.
“Today, the US leads the world in oil and gas production,” said Perry. “My department is approving applications for natural gas exports as fast as possible, including to Africa.”
FREEDOM AND SECURITY
Perry’s speech had elements of a Hollywood movie as he urged African producers to emulate the US in its shale oil and gas revolution.
Growing energy production could “liberate” the world, he said, adding that the US was keen on helping his friends in Africa.
Perry used America’s two favorite words — freedom and security — and said that Africa’s natural resource base meant it was “an opportunity for Africa to reflect and shine globally … show the world that innovation and energy offers a better life to the millions of people who call this continent home.”
He added: “When you do business with America on energy, you can be assured we will not use that energy as a weapon.”
But then Perry went to say that rising US oil and gas production was an energy arsenal.
“We will end the dependence on hostile sources [by] exporting to our friends, freeing them — energy is a tool of liberation … We have the largest arsenal,” he added.
After the speech, he made a swift exit from the stage along with his posse, and left the conference in a hurry. Maybe there was another reason he was here after all.
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