Niger inaugurated its first oil refinery on Monday, marking the arrival of the West African state as a commercial oil producer and making it self-sufficient in refined oil products.
The Soraz refinery near Zinder, some 900 km (560 miles) east of the capital Niamey is a joint venture with China. Its 20,000 barrel-per-day capacity will be fed entirely by oil from the newly-launched Agadem oilfield a further 700 km east.
This is a big day for Niger which has been prospecting for oil for 50 years, President Mahamadou Issoufou said at the opening ceremony broadcast on state television.
The Soraz refinery will initially draw crude from three Agadem wells with reserves totaling 480 million barrels. Local consumption of refined products accounts for 7,000 barrels a day with plans to export the rest.
The Soraz refinery is 60 percent-owned by Chinese state oil company CNPC and 40 percent by Niger. It follows a $5 billion deal signed between the two in 2008 to concurrently build the plant and develop crude oil from Agadem.
CNPC President Jiang Jiemin said CNPC and the Nigerien government had agreed to begin a second phase of the project involving the construction of a pipeline to export crude oil to foreign markets.
The pipeline is expected to be built by 2013 to 2014.
Thanks to the oil, Niger is seen hitting 8.5 percent growth next year, more than double the 3.8 percent forecast for this year, the West African regional central bank BCEAO has estimated.
The West African nation is already one of the world's biggest suppliers of uranium.