By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
VENTURES AFRICA — On a continent where one of the easiest pastimes of cynics is to demonise anything government, stories such as these are the kind that should be told with fervour, with free-flowing life: stories like that of Sonatrach (Société Nationale pour la Recherche, la Production, le Transport, la Transformation, et la Commercialisation des Hydrocarbures s.p.a.). If Algeria’s government-owned Sonatrach was only a year ago named Africa’s topmost company in a rating that considered 5,913 companies, who then should say government cannot work, that government is all about bureaucracies that never quite translate to any good for the people?
Not only was Sonatrach rated the continent’s first, with a financial turnover of $58,793,251,000, it is also the largest Algerian company and the 11th largest oil consortium in the world!
Formed in 1963 (as an Algerian government-owned company) to exploit the hydrocarbon resources of the country, it now employs approximately 120,000 workers and produces 30 per cent of the northern African country’s GNP.
It has concessions in Libya, Mauritania, Peru, Yemen and Venezuela; while its diversified activities cover all aspects ranging from exploration to extraction, transport, and refining. It has equally diversified into petrochemistry and seawater desalination.
Sonatrach runs Hassi Messaoud, the largest oil field in Algeria, which produced about 440,000 bbl/d (70,000 m3/d) of crude in 2006; and it also operates the Hassi R’Mel field (north of Hassi Messaoud, south of Algiers), which produces around 180,000 bbl/d (29,000 m3/d) of crude. Its other major fields include Tin Fouye Tabankort Ordo, Zarzaitine, Haoud Berkaoui/Ben Kahla, and Ait Kheir.
Sonatrach operates over 2,400 miles (3,900 km) of crude oil pipelines in the country, its most important pipelines carrying crude oil from the Hassi Messaoud field to export terminals. It also operates oil condensate and LPG pipeline networks linking Hassi R’mel and other fields to Arzew.
Currently it controls 50 per cent of Numhyd, a joint venture with ETAP of Tunisia; and ALEPCO, a joint venture with the Libyan National Oil Corporation. It also runs Naftal, the principal company selling petroleum-based fuels for domestic consumption with about 10,000 gas stations (as of 2005.), having acquired it in 1998. Naftec, one of the giant company’s subsidiaries, operates Algeria’s four refineries, which have a combined capacity of 450,000 bbl/d (72,000 m3/d).
The challenge of meeting Algeria’s oil demands putatively rests on Sonatrach; and in nearly half a decade of its existence, it has yet to show symptoms of buckling under to the task. Its Skikda refinery (300,000 bpd) provides the bulk of the country’s refined products production; the 30,000 bbl/d (4,800 m3/d) Hassi Messaoud refinery supplies products to southern Algeria; while the 60,000 bbl/d (9,500 m3/d) Algiers refinery processes crude from Hassi Messaoud for consumption in the capital; and the coastal 60,000 bbl/d (9,500 m3/d) Arzew refinery produces products for domestic consumption and export.
Asides its leading role in Algeria’s economy, Sonatrach also wields enormous political importance, and has a reputation for producing most energy ministers of the country.