Play by Play: Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu’s oil and gas potential is less conventional than other basins in the East Africa Rift System (EARS), and yet, it is the only one where the resources in place are already in production.

Covering 2,400 square kilometers with a maximum depth of 485 meters, Lake Kivu is located on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has an accumulation of methane gas trapped in its deepest waters. Estimated at 60 billion cubic meters of methane gas and 300 billion cubic meters of carbon dioxide accumulations, Lake Kivu is considered to be the lake with the biggest reserves of this resource in the world.

However, the layers that trap both the methane and carbon dioxide are unstable, and pose a risk of leaking gas into the atmosphere because of tectonic activity or the accumulation of gas pressure. To curb the threat of gas leaking naturally, the governments of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have promoted the extraction and commercialization of the gas.

The gas concentration was first detected in the 1930s, but the first project to evaluate the commercial potential of the lake’s methane resources was not until 1963, and the gas was not used for power generation until 2006, when the Kibuye Power 1 plant came online with a generation capacity of 5 MW. The project was developed by Danes Associates in collaboration with the Rwandan government. American company Symbion Power acquired the plant in September 2016, and is now seeking gas purchase agreements to boost the plant’s production capacity to 25 MW by 2018 and 50 MW by 2019.

In a very significant project, US-based Contour Global used a floating barge and a gas pressure reduction system to adjust the methane pressure for extraction in 2015. The $200-million KivuWatt channels the gas to a 26 MW plant onshore. The project is set to be expanded by 75 MW in its second phase. The estimated power potential from the reserves from the lake — totaling 960 MW — could represent a convenient solution for power shortages in both the DRC and Rwanda.