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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

West African Pipeline Takes On the Mideast

YAOUNDE, Cameroon -- The first tanker has set off from a Cameroon port with crude from a massive, $3.7 billion pipeline, launching an ambitious World Bank project aimed at developing West African oil as an alternative to Mideast supplies.

The 1,075-kilometer pipeline from the landlocked nation of Chad to the Atlantic ports of Cameroon represents the World Bank's largest-ever investment in sub-Saharan Africa.

A tanker carrying the first 950,000 barrels left the Cameroon port of Kribi on Friday, Cameroon's National Oil Transportation Co. and National HydroCarbons Co. said.

Conceived in 1996, the pipeline has been developed by an international consortium, with ExxonMobil holding a 40 percent stake, Malaysia's Petronas 35 percent, and ChevronTexaco 25 percent. U.S. President George W. Bush's administration, hopeful of lessening U.S. dependence on Mideast oil, has pushed development of West Africa's oil.

The starting shipment comes two months after the first oil trickled into the pipeline from Chad's southern town of Doba. West Africa already supplies the United States with about one-fifth of its oil -- roughly equal to Saudi Arabia's share of the U.S. market.

The World Bank, in its first foray into supporting oil production, supplied 3 percent of the financing for the pipeline. It is part of a strategy to get developing countries to use revenues from their own resources to alleviate poverty. The bank set up an independent monitoring panel to oversee accounting -- an unprecedented undertaking in a region known for corruption, plutocracy and environmental disasters.

Other financiers include the European Investment Bank, U.S. Export-Import Bank, the French export credit agency COFACE and a group of private banks led by Dutch ABN-Amro and Credit Agricole Indosuez.

Chad and Cameroon signed a treaty for the construction of the pipeline in 1996. Construction began in 2000. The project included development of 300 wells in the Doba oil fields in southern Chad. The oil fields are estimated to hold reserves of more than 900 million barrels. Backers say daily production will hit 250,000 barrels at peak.

Project sponsors say that revenues could reach $2 billion for Chad and $500 million for Cameroon over the projected 25-year production period.

International human rights organizations have protested the project, fearing environmental and social disaster and little lasting benefit to the countries' peoples. Environmental groups in the United States and Germany have called the project a danger to Cameroon's rain forest and to Pygmies living there. Chad's leaders have pledged to invest the majority of expected oil revenues in programs to lift the country out of poverty and to develop health, educational, and agricultural sectors.