In November 2022, Mozambique entered the map of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporters with the launch of a floating platform for LNG exploration in the deep waters of the Rovuma Basin, Palma district, Cabo Delgado province, in the north of the country. The platform, called "Coral Sul", is operated by the Italian oil company Eni, and all the gas already extracted has been sent to the European and Asian markets.

The high value of Mozambique's gas for Europe has prompted Italy's Eni to prepare a second plant. The Coral Norte project will cost about $7 billion and is expected to begin liquefaction and export in 2027. The Mozambican government is enthusiastic about the projects, given the prospect of revenues from gas exploration. But this optimism is not shared by local residents.

"I'm a resident here in Palma and I've never seen any benefit from this gas exploration," said Amade Abdurremane, 38, a fish trader in the village of Palma. "We've heard that the gas is already being sold, but we locals don't know who's selling, who's buying and where the profits are going."

While doubts persist about the benefits of natural gas exploitation for ordinary people, investors and industry observers argue that Mozambique's hydrocarbon reserves could make a significant contribution to the global energy market, especially in Europe, where shortages of petroleum products have increased since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"The Russia-Ukraine conflict has reduced the availability of liquefied natural gas on the world market by about 120 million tons, and Mozambique can play an important role in meeting the shortfall of this important energy resource," said Paul Taylor, head of energy and infrastructure at Standard Bank Group, one of the commercial banks that has lent billions of dollars to the e-LNG projects in Cabo Delgado province. "The national reserves can solve not only Europe's, but also the region's, especially South Africa, which is facing an energy crisis and needs 60 to 70 gigawatts of energy," he added, speaking at a gas summit and in Maputo in September 2023.

In mid-September 2023, Eni launched a public tender inviting companies to express interest in drilling four to six wells in Mozambique in connection with the commissioning of the FLNG's second platform, "Coral Norte". In addition, Eni will soon publish the results of a well drilled in the Angoche Basin, Nampula Province, central Mozambique. With these projects, Eni is positioning itself to increase the export of natural gas from Mozambique.

"Europe has an energy supply problem, while Africa is potentially a huge energy producer. If we put the two things together, we can build a different future of cooperation between our continents," said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on October 13, 2023, during an official visit to Mozambique.

More wells on hold

Eni is the only company with an LNG exploration project underway, but it is one of a number of multinationals investing billions of dollars in Mozambique. Other major projects to supply the world's natural gas needs include the onshore projects of TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil, which also plan to build facilities in the Palma district.

The construction of the TotalEnergies project, valued at around $20 billion, has been suspended since March 2021 following a terrorist attack in the city of Palma. On the other hand, the $30 billion ExxonMobil project is awaiting a final investment decision, which has been postponed since 2019, also due to the attacks. What makes Eni's project viable at the moment is the fact that it operates in deep water, more than 50 km from the Cabo Delgado mainland, which limits the impact of the attacks.

There is no clarity about the moral authors and motivations of the attacks, but there is a widespread idea among the population that there is a link between the terrorist incursions and the ongoing gas investments.

"I was born in Palma and there were never any problems until these gas projects were announced," said Lucílio Boavida, 67, who was displaced after the March 2021 attack in the neighbouring province of Nampula, at the home of one of his sons. "I've always been a fisherman there, and all these attacks started after the gas was announced."

"Sometimes I think it's these resources that have brought us the curse," Abdurremane added in an interview with Climate Justice Central.

The gas discoveries were announced in 2010, and before the attacks began in 2017, there was a series of radicalization by local youth who took a stand against the state, either for religious reasons or for reasons related to extreme poverty. Since 2019, the attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State terrorist group, which says it wants to impose Islamic Sharia law in the region.

However, the fight by the Mozambican armed forces and their Rwandan and SADC partners against the terrorists in Cabo Delgado is beginning to show positive results. Many of the terrorists' bases have been destroyed and their leaders slaughtered. Attacks are now rare and carried out by small, dispersed groups. Many of the abductees are returning from captivity, reporting hunger and a lack of coordination among terrorist cells. On October 20, the Mozambican Minister of Defense announced that 70% of those displaced by the war in Cabo Delgado had already returned to their areas of origin and that the situation was gradually improving.

At the end of September 2023, TotalEnergies announced that the improved security situation in the region would allow the company to resume work on its project to build an LNG production facility in Cabo Delgado province by the end of 2023, with the project to be operational by 2028. Industry analysts say ExxonMobil's investment decision should follow the lifting of TotalEnergies' suspension.

Government ignores environmental impacts

The Mozambican government is guided by two logics regarding LNG projects. First, they claim that gas is less polluting than other fossil fuels, a narrative rooted in a broader fossil fuel disinformation campaign. Second, they argue that these projects will help with energy transition and support Mozambique's social and economic development, despite criticism from environmentalists.

The progress of the TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil projects is eagerly awaited both nationally and internationally and should make Mozambique one of the world's leading LNG exporters and a major global energy player," said INP Chairman Nazário Bangalane at a recent gas summit in Maputo.

"Natural gas is benefiting from political support worldwide as a balance between energy transition and energy security, and Mozambique should take advantage of this," he said.

However, environmental organizations such as Friends of the Earth believe that these projects should not go ahead, arguing that the climate impact will be extremely high and that they are completely out of line with the Paris Agreement, as they will increase greenhouse gas emissions. Friends of the Earth's report estimates that the TotalEnergies project alone could emit 3.3 to 4.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalent over its life cycle, more than the combined annual greenhouse gas emissions of all 27 EU countries.

The Mozambican government's rejection of warnings of increased global warming comes in a context where the country is severely affected by climate change, characterized by extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and tropical cyclones that affect different regions of the country every year. One of the most recent events with the greatest impact was tropical cyclone Idai, which caused more than 1,000 deaths in 2019.

This article is part of our current reporting project "Dismantling the Fossil Fuel Industry".