The oil industry has long reflected Gabon’s colonial past, and its close ties with Europe and France in particular. Total was first oil company to begin production in Gabon. Over the years, the French firm has battled back and forth for the distinction of largest producer in the country with Shell, an Anglo-Dutch oil giant. The Italian major ENI also has a long presence in Gabon. Europe and North America also remain the ultimate destination of the majority of Gabon’s oil exports.

DEMAND: As demand for energy shifts towards the East, however, so has the composition of Gabon’s energy sector. Increasingly, interest and activity in oil exploration and production is coming from Chinese, Indian and other emerging market companies, as they seek to quench their rapidly growing thirst for energy by securing reserves around the world.

According to the US Energy Information Agency, global energy consumption is set to rise from about 505qrn British thermal units (BTU) in 2008 to 770qrn BTU in 2035. While energy demand is divided about equally between developed countries and their emerging counterparts, by 2035, demand is forecast to double in the developing world to two times the demand in the West, meaning that almost all of the growth in energy consumption will come from the emerging world over the next two and a half decades.

EMERGING MARKETS: Demand in emerging markets is expanding rapidly, driven by strong economic growth and the full-scale industrialisation and urbanisation of countries like China, India and Brazil. This is likely to continue, as millions of new middle-class citizens in these countries clamour for cars and consumer goods. While global energy consumption grew at an average rate of 1.9% from 1980 to 2005, consumption of energy in the emerging world grew at an average of 4.5%. In China and India, the rates were 5.2% and 5.8%, respectively.

With relatively unexploited reserves, Africa, and the Gulf of Guinea in particular, has been a region of particular interest for emerging-market oil companies. According to the World Bank, the Gulf of Guinea is expected to double its share of global production, from 10% to 20%, over the next 20 years. In order to fuel rapidly rising demand and secure stable reserves to support continued economic growth and development, oil companies from the emerging markets are aggressively acquiring assets across Africa and around the world.

EMERGING COMPETITION: After half a century of dominance in Gabon’s oil sector, Western oil companies are finally being joined by their emerging market counterparts. Sinopec, a subsidiary of China Petroleum & Chemical, has been the most active of the new entrants, particularly since it purchased the Canadian company Addax Petroleum for $7.3bn in 2009. Addax has interests in five offshore and onshore blocks and is involved in both production and exploration in Gabon. Addax’s production is about 28,500 barrels per day, making it the fourth-largest producer in Gabon.

Oil India, India’s second-biggest oil company, is another emerging market player that has recently entered the Gabonese petroleum sector. Oil India, in partnership with Indian Oil and Marvis Pte, a Singaporean company, is currently carrying out an exploration programme in the Shakti onshore block.

Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil giant, has come to Gabon with a specific goal in mind. The company wants to use the expertise and knowledge of ultra-deep exploration and production it has gained exploiting the large pre-salt deposits of the coast of Brazil to explore similar geological formations in Gabon. In June 2011, it purchased a 50% stake in two offshore blocks from the British company Ophir Energy, which will maintain the remaining 50% interest in the assets.

While Western majors like Total and Shell, with their long histories in the country, are not likely to be displaced, newcomers like Sinopec, Petrobras and Oil India are making aggressive moves to gain a foothold in the sector, supported by sizeable state-backed resources. These firms have recognised that Gabon, like many countries in Africa, is an ideal location to secure the resources necessary to meet growing demand for oil.