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How gas projects in Africa could affect the continent's future

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

With a natural gas shortage amid Russia's war in Ukraine, fossil fuel companies are using this moment to push for new liquefied natural gas, or LNG, projects. And a lot of their lobbying is in sub-Saharan Africa, as Julia Simon reports.

JULIA SIMON, BYLINE: Mike Anderson's a VP at Dallas-based Kosmos Energy, and he's been putting a lot of miles on private jets lately. He was just in Mauritania, Senegal before that.

MIKE ANDERSON: Seeing the two respective presidents, with some detailed conversation with them precisely on the subject of LNG.

SIMON: And how to speed it up.

ANDERSON: How quickly can we get our LNG to market?

SIMON: Europe is desperate for natural gas. Days after Anderson met with the Senegalese president, the German chancellor came to meet with him about gas deals. And energy executives are traversing sub-Saharan Africa to fast-track new projects, like in Tanzania. This month, the country signed an initial agreement with Shell for a new $30 billion LNG facility. But Silas Olan'g of the nonprofit Natural Resource Governance Institute says while the Ukraine war may have increased interest in the project...

SILAS OLAN'G: The first LNG in Tanzania is likely to come out around 2030.

SIMON: Wow. That's a long time away.

OLAN'G: (Laughter) It's not anytime soon.

SIMON: For Olan'g, this raises a big red flag. Just last fall at the U.N. climate conference, dozens of countries agreed to stop financing international fossil fuel projects by the end of this year. Many countries and companies have goals to reduce emissions in the coming decades. Given all that, he worries that fossil fuel companies are pumping up hope in Africa for future gas demand that may not exist.

OLAN'G: Clearly, if I look at the timelines for Tanzania production as we reduce consumption of fossil fuel, that is when Tanzania comes into the market. Those two timelines are definitely opposed.

SIMON: But Anderson says you have to look at the broader context. Africa has historically contributed a small part of the emissions heating the planet. He says these countries deserve the chance to profit off their huge gas reserves and use those revenues to develop their economies.

ANDERSON: If I was an African president in many of these countries being lectured to, you're not allowed to use your hydrocarbon resources in any way. We have. We in the north have made fabulous amounts of money. We've got great economies.

DAN KAMMEN: True possibly in theory, but it's absolutely false in practice.

SIMON: Dan Kammen is an energy adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He says the problem with that argument is that many of these new African LNG producers need high gas prices to keep their projects economical into the future. While gas prices are high today, that may change. If that happens, Kammen says these new players won't be able to compete against more established gas producers like Qatar or the U.S.

KAMMEN: They're going to get crowded out in the waning days of gas by the big, current providers.

SIMON: And for many African countries hoping to build new LNG, climate change is already here. Mozambique is considering more than $40 billion of new LNG projects. Yet Fatima Mimbire of the NGO N'weti says the country already sees increased drought and storms driven by fossil fuels.

FATIMA MIMBIRE: We are feeling that every day there is the storms and catastrophic events affecting thousands of people in this country. This is the reality. That is the fact.

SIMON: ExxonMobil and Italy's Eni are now readying a new gas project offshore in Mozambique. It plans to deliver its first LNG later this year. For NPR News, I'm Julia Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julia Simon