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Kenya's president calls it a 'major breakthrough'

British-based Tullow Oil said the find is beyond expectations

Kenya is the second country in East Africa to have discovered oil

Nairobi, Kenya CNN  — 

Kenya has finally struck oil after decades of exploration, the country’s president announced Monday.

President Mwai Kibaki called the discovery a “major breakthrough,” though it will take more than three years before the country can become an oil producer.

“This is the first time Kenya has made such a discovery and it is very good news for our country,” Kibaki said at a state function in Nairobi.

British-based Tullow Oil said it established more than 20 meters (65 feet) of net oil pay, which refers to the depth of the oil reservoir.

“This is an excellent start to our major exploration campaign in the East African rift basins of Kenya and Ethiopia,” the company’s exploration director, Angus McCoss, said in a written statement. “To make a good oil discovery in our first well is beyond our expectations and bodes well for the material program ahead of us.”

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The company said it plans to drill deeper and drill multiple other wells to seek more oil.

Tullow said it discovered the oil well in Turkana County, in the northwestern part of the country near Uganda, where the company is already a major player in the country’s oil fields.

Kenya is the second country, after Uganda, to have discovered oil in East Africa.

Richard Leakey, a noted paleontologist and environmentalist, told CNN there could be significant benefits from the oil find.

“I have always thought there was oil there and I have encouraged the search for oil for the past 40 years because of our geological surveys,” said Leakey, who has been working in the Turkana region for four decades. “In the end, I believe there will be a significant find.”

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Leakey says will take five to 10 years for the oil find to benefit Kenyans.

“The hope is that Kenya won’t squander the money before it has made anything,” he said.

Kenya must now safeguard against oil spills and environmental pollution, he said, and make sure local people benefit.

Tullow has more than 90 production and exploration licenses in 22 countries in Africa, Europe, South America and Asia.

National Oil Corp. of Kenya has been directing the search of oil in the country since its began operating in 1984, according to its website.