African Licensing Rounds

The political climate in many African nations is becoming increasingly stable, with governments keen to attract foreign investment to unlock the potential of their natural resources.  There are currently plenty of opportunities for those seeking new acreage in Africa:  From high-risk high-reward deepwater plays to near-field onshore exploration.  Many African licensing rounds are still going ahead in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, albeit with delays to the planned timetables*.   Keep reading to find out more…

Map showing current and planned licensing rounds in Africa

There are few places in the world where you can find under-explored onshore acreage – but Africa is one of them! Three countries have onshore licensing rounds ongoing or upcoming in 2021.  Angola’s onshore round has been postponed until January-March 2021, with 3 blocks in the Lower Congo Basin and 6 in the Kwanza Basin on offer. Covered only by sparce legacy seismic data, more modern seismic could be the key to unlocking and maturing the hidden potential hinted at by existing oil and gas fields.  South Sudan is eager to attract western investment to the 14 blocks being offered in their 2nd international bidding round.  While political instability remains, several discoveries have already been made, particularly in the Blue Nile Basin where the Petrodar oil pipeline provides an easy export route.   Finally, the Republic of Congo is actively promoting 5 onshore blocks in the Cuvette Basin. This is real exploration territory, with scarce seismic and no wells on the Republic’s side of the basin despite oil seeps providing evidence of source rocks.  Integration of regional gravity and appropriate analogues may provide a suitably low cost exploration programme to unlock this petroleum system.

Headlines are still being made by deepwater discoveries in Africa, and Senegal, Gabon and Tanzania all have licensing rounds covering this theme.  Senegal is currently offering 12 deepwater and ultra-deepwater offshore blocks near Cairn’s basin-opening FAN and SNE discoveries.  This round is scheduled to close on 15th December 2020. Cairn’s discoveries are reservoired in Albian sands, with prospectivity in Senegal also identified in Late Cretaceous and Tertiary aged turbidite plays.  In Merlin’s experience, oil maturity in an outboard setting is key, as is the up-dip seal on individual fans. Gabon is continuing with their 2018 offshore round, the closing date for which is yet to be announced.  12 shallow water and 23 deepwater blocks are on offer. Prospectivity in the northern blocks can generally be found in post-salt turbidite plays of the Upper Cretaceous or Tertiary, whilst the pre-salt, tilted fault block play is more active in the south of Gabon.  In East Africa, Tanzania are planning to offer 8 deepwater blocks in their forthcoming licensing round planned for 2021.  Modern seismic methods and AVO analyses have been used to make several gas discoveries in the offshore area and some of the blocks to be offered already contain gas discoveries.  

Frontier exploration provides the opportunity to get in on the ground floor when it comes to exciting new plays and Liberia and Somalia are both offering blocks which fall into this category.  In Liberia, 9 blocks are being offered in the unexplored Harper Basin (pre-qualification closes on 31st October 2020).  Located along a transform fault, the plays are expected to be analogous to neighbouring Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana.  A seismic database of recently acquired regional lines is available to evaluate trap risks but source maturity and migration are yet to be proven.  Although Somalia is more politically stable than it has been for decades it remains a fragile state and carries clear above-ground risks.  Up to 7 offshore blocks are on offer (round scheduled to close March 2021) along the underexplored east coast, where exciting structures have been identified in two recent regional seismic surveys.  Potential reservoirs include pre-rift Karoo sandstones, syn-rift Lower Jurassic sand-shale pairs and post-rift carbonate build-ups and turbidite fans.  

Merlin’s team has screened and evaluated assets across Africa, leveraging its considerable regional expertise.  Using bespoke workflows to evaluate prospectivity in everything from frontier exploration to mature fields, Merlin has supported clients in making cost-effective investment decisions to progress their assets at all stages in the petroleum lifecycle.  Merlin is proud to have driven Savannah Energy’s African journey from their country entry in Niger to the delivery of five discoveries in their maiden exploration campaign.

If you would like us to support your African ventures, or would like to know more about exploration in Africa please contact Merlin at

*All dates are correct at time of publication