Sahara Group has started pumping its first crude oil and plans to expand trading activities in the Middle East and Asia, the chief executive of its trading division said, as the centre of world oil demand shifts east.
Privately owned Sahara, which had a turnover of $8 billion in 2011, is along with Swiss-based traders Vitol, Trafigura and Glencore, one of the main independent exporters from Nigeria, Africa's top oil producer, via term contracts with state oil firm NNPC.
Already present in the African fuel distribution and power sector, Sahara this year started pumping its first oil.
"We are currently focused in fully developing one onshore block (OPL274), where we believe to get soon a peak production of mininum 25,000 barrels per day," said Fortunato Constantino in an interview.
The firm also has stakes in several offshore Nigerian oil blocks, including OL284 and OL286. Sahara also expects to become a producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the next few years through Nigeria's long-delayed Brass LNG project, alongside shareholders Eni and Total.
"The plan of the shareholders is to take a final investment decision by the end of the year. We participate with a 2 percent stake and are willing to market a significant part of the 10 million tonne per annum plant production," he said.
Sahara Group is known by rival traders for its 'crude for product swaps' with Nigeria. It buys crude from the state oil firm, processes it at regional refineries such as in Ivory Coast and then sells the products back to Africa's most populous nation.
Constantino, who joined Sahara from OMV in 2010, told Reuters the next strategic step would be to source crude from beyond West Africa and gain better access to sour barrels, which are expected to account for a large portion of future Asian demand.
"The strategy is to balance our portfolio between West Africa and other regions to leverage our offer and possibly play the arbitrage. We want to be ready to benefit from more east/west arbitrage future windows," he said.
Tough environmental rules in Europe and growing competition from cleaner fuels such as natural gas have crushed European oil refining margins, driving investors towards new plants in emerging markets including India and China.
"We are looking at establishing new positions in North Africa, Middle East and the Far East, to redistribute our oil supply portfolio by offering a wider range of grades," Constantino said.
Sahara has recently started trading Libyan and Iraqi spot oil cargoes and is interested in signing a processing agreement with a refinery in the Middle East or the Far East, he added, without giving specifics. The firm opened a trading office in Dubai in late 2011 and has two traders based there, he said.