By far the most important mineral in Côte d'Ivoire was petroleum. Petroleum was first discovered in the early 1970s on the continental shelf off the coast of Jacqueville, west of Abidjan. A short time later, a second field was discovered off Grand-Bassam, east of Abidjan. The discovery and development of the two fields coincided with the collapse of world cocoa and coffee prices in the late 1970s and was seen by many as the means by which the country could continue moving toward prosperity, although the fields, named Espoir and Bélier, were relatively small, geologically complex, and located in deep water. The Espoir field was developed by United States-based Phillips Petroleum. (PETROCI had a 10 percent share.) Espoir began operations in August 1982 with an output of 18,000 to 20,000 barrels per day (bpd). Because of technical problems, output declined the following year to 15,000 bpd. By 1988 production had fallen to 10,000 bpd.
The Bélier field, developed by Exxon, did not begin producing oil until 1980 because of technical difficulties. Output reached 10,000 bpd in 1981 and then fell to 6,000 bpd by 1986 in spite of a US$50 million investment by Exxon on a water injection program to maintain output and prolong the field's life.
Agip of Italy and Tenneco of the United States drilled exploratory wells elsewhere along the coast, but neither found sufficient reserves to continue exploration. In 1985, as world oil prices dropped and projected yields from Côte d'Ivoire's fields were reduced to more realistic levels, both Phillips and Exxon had halted exploratory and development drilling in their oil fields. Moreover, production in the existing fields failed to attain projected output, and the government's target of achieving selfsufficiency in oil production was never reached. Total oil production declined a further 5 percent in 1986 to less than 20,000 bpd, while national consumption exceeded 30,000 bpd. By the end of 1988, Exxon had halted production from the Bélier field and capped its wells.
In 1965 the Ivoirian Refining Company (Société Ivoirian de Raffinage--SIR) completed construction on a refinery at Vridi with a capacity of 700,000 tons per year. When petroleum prices surged in 1979, demand dropped substantially, and output fell to only 50 percent of capacity. Contracts with Chevron Oil of the United States to process crude oil from other African countries (primarily Nigeria) raised output to near capacity and, along with a financial recovery plan, led to a net improvement in the profitability of SIR. In 1986 capacity was increased to 3.2 million tons, making SIR the major source of refined petroleum products for West Africa. It also became Côte d'Ivoire's leading industrial plant and the thirdranking enterprise in French-speaking Africa, with revenues surpassing CFA F200 billion in 1986.
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