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South and East Africa



Somalia is underlain by the northwestern edge of the Somali Plate which is bounded by the African, Arabian and Indian Plates. The Somali Plate began to form in the Late Cretaceous by rifting of the African Plate along the East African Rift.

The African Plate west of the rift is called the Nubian Plate. The Somali Plate in Somalia is bounded on the west by the East African Rift, which stretches south from the triple junction in the Afar Depression of Djibouti and Eritrea. The northern boundary is the Aden Ridge along the coast of Saudi Arabia.

Within the Somali plate are intra-cratonic rift basins. The Ogaden Basin, which covers a large part of Ethiopia, developed in response to complex rifting active during the Late Palaeozoic to Mesozoic. Thick Permian to Cretaceous sequences, which principally occur in the southwestern and central parts of the basin, have proven petroleum potential.

Reservoir rocks are mainly Permian to Lower Jurassic sandstones and  limestones.  Source rocks are organic-rich Permian, Lower Jurassic and Jurassic lacustrine and marine shales. A small part of the Ogaden basin extends into southern Somalia.

Several northwest trending rift basins are also present in Somaliland and Puntland filled with restricted marine sequences. These basins include the Adigala in the west, the Darin and Dharoor in the east and the Nugaal in the south.

They were created during rifting events that began to split Gondwanaland in the Middle Jurassic and are analogous to oil and gas bearing basins in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden within the Arabian plate.

Jurassic sandstones are the main reservoir targets overlying organic-rich Jurassic shales and marls which are thought to be potential source rocks. A number of other layers also produce in Yemen and rocks of similar age may be prospective in Somalia.

However, when the East African Rift was developing, the earlier Gondwanan rifts were subject to uplift and erosion which Globalshift considers may have destroyed older traps.


Oil exploration in Somalia commenced around 1920 when Anglo-American conducted a geological expedition to the Horn of Africa. There was limited shallow drilling around oil seeps in the 1930s but the first true exploration well was not drilled until 1956 in former British Somaliland.

Up to 1991, when the Somali civil war began, around 60 onshore wells had been drilled across the country, mostly in the northern basins. In the 1950s Stanvac’s well on the Daga Shebel seep in Somaliland near the Gulf of Aden coast found significant oil shows.

In the 1960s gas flows were registered in Sinclair’s Agfoi-1 well near the Indian Ocean coast in southern Somalia. The last well to be drilled  in Somalia before the civil war was Conoco’s Nogal-1 well which encountered oil shows in the Nugaal-1 basin in Puntland.

Eight offshore wells were drilled in the Gulf of Aden between 1974 and 1986 but none of these found oil or gas. The Gulf of Aden is also unproductive in Yemen.

There was no exploration activity for 20 years during the war and its aftermath but a flurry of licensing and exploration programs were announced in 2012 in Somaliland and Puntland where the political situation has become more stable. However, no activity is occurring in southern Somalia where security remains a major problem.

As yet, no wells in any of Somalia’s basins have been commercially successful for oil or gas. Although a number of areas have potential, particularly in the north within basins analogous to those in Yemen, the geological and political risks are high.

Consequently no production has been allocated to Somalia by Globalshift for the short and medium term.

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Somalia Datafiles

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