Drilling for Oil in Somalia

Richard McNitzky
November 13, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017

Fig. 1: Oil platform. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As the demand for natural resources continues to rise, people and companies are starting to look to other untapped, but viable options. The latest wave of interest has been focused on East Africa, and more specifically Somalia. For the first time ever, foreign industries such as Soma Oil and Gas, a London-based company, have invested millions to conduct seismic surveys and are encouraged by the results. At this rate, the country of Somalia is claiming that it will be producing oil by 2020. While the current progress is promising, the question remains: Will drilling for oil in Somalia be accomplishable with the current state of the country? [1]

Why Somalia?

The search for oil within Africa has been an ongoing process with little success. However, the latest seismic data have revealed new potential oil in the waters surrounding Somalia. Geologists have divided the potential oil drilling waters into a North and a South. In the North there are large tilted fault blocks, reef buildups, and huge anticlinal folds of rock, all seen to lie right next to oil rich wells. The temperature in the North increases rapidly which allows the Jurassic rocks to be prime sources to generate oil, as opposed to gas. Additionally these Jurassic rocks are only about 1 to 2 miles below sea level. On the other hand in the southern region the temperatures are much cooler, and the potential oil-dense oceanic crust is 2 to 2.5 miles below sea level. Geoscientists have concluded that, while the North and South might differ in temperature, depth, reservoir type, both areas appear to be rich in hydrocarbons and show great promise for producing great amounts of oil. [2]

Potential Risks and Problems

While Somalia has taken strides towards a more stable country, many problems still exist, including Somalia's ranking dead last out of 176 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. This means that foreign oil companies will be facing an unusually great amount of corruption in a country that has very few measures in place to combat it. There is also the very real presence of both armed piracy groups and the Islamist-terrorist organization, Al Shabaab. As a result many safety measures must be put in place, and even then a foreigner's investment is still at large risk. The violence within Somalia due to its internal civil war, and the fact that 73% of the country lives below the poverty line (which has lead to an upsurge in piracy) are both reasons that investment in such a country is a gamble. [3]

However after 150 days of seismic studies covering more than 10,000 miles, no major violent instances occurred. This shows steps in the right direction. The thorough seismic study took 444,532 man hours to complete. If these foreign investors can cooperate with the Somali government and locals, they might be able to continue running safe practices overseas. Only time will tell how safe this country will be when it comes to oil operations. [2]


The untapped potential and great location next to shipping lanes has made Somalia a potentially lucrative spot for oil drilling. As shown in Fig. 1, these rigs could soon populate the Gulf of Aden, and other waters surrounding the Somalia. Additionally seismic studies have shown the area to be full of hydrocarbon reservoirs, and potential oil wells. While there are many positives about this third world country oil, there are also many risks, including corruption, piracy, and the persistent civil war in the country. As investors try to claim the region's oil, it will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds. [3]

© Richard McNitzky. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] R. Padmore, "Somalia Invites Energy Companies to Explore for Oil," BBC News, 8 Dec 14.

[2] N. Hodgeson, "Somalia Awakens as East Africa's Oil Province," Offshore Magazine 76, No. 12, 15 Dec 16.

[3] S. U. Barnes. "Geology and Oil Prospects of Somalia, East Africa," Am. Assoc. Pet. Geol. Bull. 60, 413 (1976).