LONDON - Angola's oil industry is booming as money pours in after the end of three decades of civil war, and officials say output could increase by as much as two-thirds over the next five years.
Buoyed by a scramble for energy and raw materials by China and other emerging nations, oil companies are spending tens of billions of dollars drilling oil and gas wells deep below the Atlantic many miles off the African coast. Production capacity has increased steadily over the last two years and oil analysts say Angola could now comfortably pump at least 2 million barrels per day (bpd) and is increasingly only held back by political constraints.
Angola is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), holding the presidency of the 12-member grouping this year, and has been limiting output with other OPEC states to help stabilize oil prices in the wake of the global economic crisis.
But dozens of new Angolan oilfields will come on stream between 2011 and 2015 and oil analysts expect output to increase steadily to between 2.5 and 3.0 million over this period.
By 2015, Angola should be looking at oil production closer to 3 million bpd, said Thomas Pearmain, African energy analyst at IHS Global Insight. Production will be pretty flat from now through until about 2011 and then we will see a number of very big projects come on over the following three to four years.
Angolan oil output exceeded 1.9 million bpd last month when it briefly overtook Nigeria as Africa's largest oil producer.
Its northern neighbor has suffered from a violent insurgency in the oil-rich Niger Delta that has seen waves of attacks on its aging pipelines, wells and pumping stations.
Angola's newly installed oil facilities, almost all way offshore, face no such hazards.
Although offshore production is more costly and takes much longer to develop than onshore wells, it is attractive to oil companies who can operate without any local constraints. Security risks are much lower and far easier to contain.
Angola has more going for it than just its oil, said Markus Weimer, a research fellow in the Africa Programme at British think tank Chatham House. It is a secure oil supplier -- unlike others in the region like Nigeria. It is more predictable in many ways.
The higher production costs for oil can be offset by the stability and predictability that is offered in Angola.
Angola has probable oil reserves of 13-19 billion barrels, giving it the third largest hydrocarbon resources in Africa behind Libya and Nigeria, analysts say, but the rate of discovery of new Angolan oilfields is outpacing its rivals and its production is beginning to accelerate.
Angola looks likely to hold a licensing round next year with oil blocks that will be among the most attractive in the world. There will be huge interest and all the big companies will want to take them on, Pearmain said.
The three biggest foreign operators in Angola, Exxon Mobil Corp., Total SA and Chevron Corp all have major projects coming on stream between 2011 and 2015 that could add up to 850,000 bpd of new production, analysts say.
Other foreign oil companies, including BP and Eni, could contribute up to an additional 350,000 bpd, bringing a potential overall increase of 60-70 percent.
Holly Pattenden, head oil analyst at Business Monitor International, says state oil company Sonangol is likely to keep a lid on Angolan oil production for some time to come as the country supports OPEC's attempts to limit global oil supply.
She says the country already has a sustainable oil output capacity of 2.1 million bpd and sees that rising soon:
We see oil production peaking at 2.55 million bpd in 2015 after which we see it slowly declining, she said.
Weimer sees a much more significant increase and argues it could reach 3 million bpd if the conditions are right: Angolan production will rise substantially from current levels.
(Additional reporting by Henrique Almeida in Luanda; editing by William Hardy)