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Is oil drawing Bush to Nigeria?

By CNN's Liz George


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President Bush plans to promote his efforts to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa during a five-country tour of the continent. CNN's George Bauer reports (July 7)
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush is set to visit Africa to talk about AIDS and try to settle the situation in Liberia.

But there may be one more issue on his agenda. Some are saying he's keen to further secure U.S. oil supplies.

West Africa is producing about 4.5 million barrels of oil a day -- a figure expected to rise to nearly 6 million by 2008, according to the Energy Intelligence Unit.

Nigeria, one of the five countries on Bush's itinerary, is the 13th largest oil producer in the world, pumping out 2.26 million barrels per day. The biggest supplier is the United States, with 9 million, ahead of Saudi Arabia with 8.83 million.

West Africa's supply represents a significant source of energy for the world at a time when the Middle East remains volatile.

Some are asking whether oil is the real reason behind Bush's visit. (Full story)

Gus Selassie, a South African analyst at the World Market Research Center, said: "With the Middle East continuing to remain volatile it is important for the U.S. national interest to source its oil from other less volatile regions, and Africa is one of those and becoming more significant."

Nigeria will perhaps provide the focus for any talks on oil.

It is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and is already America's fifth largest supplier. OPEC figures show it had more than 31 billion barrels of oil reserves in 2001.

Yet the country is currently mired in a general strike, with oil workers threatening to block exports of crude oil. (Full story)

Fears exist that this could cripple the economy, with world oil prices already showing signs of edging up as a result.

And tensions between locals and the oil firms exist over how revenues are shared out -- which has led to hostage-takings, protests and attacks against pipelines.

Fears are increased because Nigeria is one of the more stable oil-producing countries in Africa.

Robert Guest of The Economist magazine said: "Africa produces oil and they sell it to America -- there is nothing, shouldn't even be anything controversial about that part of it.

"There is a problem that oil in Africa does, of course, tend to support fairly unpleasant, corrupt dictatorships and arguably America should do more to promote democracy and good governance from the countries from which it buys oil. But it is not ultimately America's responsibility."

It may not be its responsibility -- but certainly it is in its national interests.

The U.S. guzzles between 18 million and 20 million barrels of oil a day. With a proven pool of about 60 billion barrels ready to be tapped in the Gulf of Guinea and even more deep water discoveries expected, oil might not be at the forefront of Bush's visit -- but it is certain to be on his agenda.


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