Home » Sterling Oil Secures Mega Dam Project in DR Congo, But Questions Linger

Sterling Oil Secures Mega Dam Project in DR Congo, But Questions Linger

Shifting Gears on the Inga Dam: Nigeria's Sterling Oil Steps In

by Victor Adetimilehin

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has made a surprising about-face in the development of the Inga Dam, the world’s largest hydropower project. Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest’s company, Fortescue Metals Group, has been sidelined, with Nigerian oil producer Natural Oilfield Services Ltd. (a subsidiary of Sterling Oil Exploration & Production Co.) taking the lead role.

Scaled-Down ambitions move forward

On May 9, 2024, Natural Oilfield signed a preliminary agreement with the DRC to construct a smaller iteration of the Grand Inga project originally proposed by Fortescue. Fortescue’s vision was a staggering 40-gigawatt behemoth. The revised agreement scales back the dam’s capacity to a still-significant 7-gigawatts. If completed, this project could surpass China’s Three Gorges Dam as the world’s leading source of hydroelectric power.

The new proposal goes beyond just electricity generation. It incorporates the construction of an aluminum foundry and an oil refinery alongside the dam at the Inga Falls. This strategy signifies the DRC’s ambition to create a comprehensive industrial complex around the powerful Inga Falls.

While the potential benefits are undeniable, the selection of Natural Oilfield has sent shivers down some spines. The company’s Indian founders, Nitin and Chetan Sandesara, are facing accusations in India of absconding with nearly $1.7 billion from public sector banks. Neither Natural Oilfield nor the Sandesara brothers responded to requests for comment on the allegations. The Indian authorities have filed charges against them.

A Long and Winding Road for Inga

The Grand Inga project has been plagued by challenges for years. The DRC’s well-documented history of corruption and the project’s immense expense are significant hurdles. Estimates suggest the total cost could balloon to a staggering $80 billion. The project envisions building a series of dams in stages along the Congo River. The two existing dams at Inga, constructed over four decades ago, generate a combined 1.8 gigawatts of power, supplying electricity to the country’s copper and cobalt mines, operated by companies like Glencore and China Railway Group.

Fortescue had planned to utilize Inga’s hydropower for a green hydrogen project, but their webpage dedicated to this initiative is no longer active. The company has indicated a willingness to remain engaged in discussions about future involvement in the DRC.

The DRC’s decision to move forward with a scaled-down version of the Inga Dam project with Nigeria’s Sterling Oil has injected fresh uncertainty into the initiative. While the potential for clean, large-scale power generation and industrial development is significant, the shadow of corruption allegations surrounding the new partner and the project’s immense financial requirements raise serious questions about its viability. Only time will tell if the Inga Dam project can finally overcome these hurdles and deliver on its ambitious goals.

Source: Mining.com

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