Africa's Role Key for Petroleum Future: Given the Currently Volatile Profile of Crude and Refined Oil in Global Trade and Politics, the 18th World Petroleum Council Congress in Johannesburg Assumed a More Than Usual Significance. Associate Editor Tom Nevin Attended the Congress

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When the world's oilmen and women, energy ministers and bureaucrats, media representatives and exhibitors packed up and departed South Africa after a mammoth get together at the 18th World Petroleum Council (WPC) Congress, they left behind a glimmer of hope that the massive reserves of oil and gas on the continent and in the seas that surround it could mean Africa's escape from poverty, or signal at least a significant step towards its eradication.

However, delegates warned, the billions of foreign dollars waiting to be invested in Africa's oil and gas industry should be used for advancing the continental economy and uplifting the lives of Africa's millions of poor and not be allowed to be squandered by corrupt politicians and businesspeople.

The WPC, held in the rough waters of the Katrina and Rita aftermath, centred on the oil price crisis and was marked by sideshow calls for more transparency in the sector, better governance and, to a lesser extent, the need to identify and develop alternative, renewable energy sources.

The event, its first time in Africa, attracted nearly 4,000 delegates from across the world--most of whom were specialists and pioneers in the petroleum sector, including 200 industry executives, 30 ministers, 300 junior professionals and over 500 speakers.

Held at Johannesburg's Sandton Convention Centre from 26 to 29 September, the WPC had hoped to wind up with solutions affecting the petroleum industry, especially the bottlenecks choking finished fuel flows from refineries and how Africa can play an ever more critical role in global supplies.

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Unexpectedly the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) came in for some rough handling amidst charges that it was less than transparent in providing production volumes and that it manipulated prices by tweaking members' production quotas.

This event was hosted by PetroSA--South Africa's national oil company--along with four leading oil producing African countries: Nigeria, Angola, Libya and Algeria.

No quick retreat from high prices

The president of the WPC, Dr Eivald Roren, set the conference's tone by asserting at the opening session that the world has found a new price level and that it was one from which there would be no quick and easy retreat. "There will always be ups and downs," he said, "but we have to get used to these new price levels. There will be no going back to the days of paying $18 a barrel."

With that in mind, the WPC got down to work on a full programme of discussions of political, commercial and technical nature.

There is no such thing as an oil price that is too high for oil companies and most announced expansion plans in domestic and far-flung oilfields, including those in north, west, south and east Africa, are being funded by the current heyday price bonanza.

Africa is home to about 9% of known global reserves, but its fossil-fuel reserves are largely unexplored. Recent finds in West Africa, potential deepwater reserves off South Africa's Cape coast, vast gas deposits in the Atlantic off Namibia and promising seismological indications in the Indian Ocean's Mozambique Channel all presage the possibility of an African oil industry many times the size it is now.

Although oil prices and concerns around the spiking of the prices topped the agenda, discussion also touched on global warming and climate change, solutions for affordable energy and sustainable alternative fuels.

At the opening session, South Africa's minerals and energy minister Lindiwe Hendricks, stressed that the congress was not another talking shop but a platform for "an exchange of expertise and an opportunity to see new ways working".

"Companies showcase their technologies to possible future investors, and investors see possibilities within the country," she said.

Special sessions were set aside to discuss ways of confronting Africa's HIV/Aids pandemic. …