NIAMEY, Niger -- Niger has started construction on an oil pipeline that will link it to the coast through West African neighbor Benin, a project that Niger's president said will bolster the country's economic development.
President Issoufou Mahamadou called the 1,982 kilometer-long pipeline one of Niger's most important projects since independence and an important step in the Sahel nation's oil production. Nearly two-thirds, just under 1,300 kilometers, will run within Niger, the remainder in Benin.
China National Petroleum Corp., which has operated in Niger since 2011, was tasked with building the pipeline along with the West African Oil Pipeline Company.
This "phase of oil field operations is a historic moment for Niger," Mahamadou said during a building launch ceremony Tuesday. It "will allow Niger to restructure its economy," he added.
The first phase of construction requires an investment of $4 billion between 2019 and 2021. The total through completion is expected to be $7 billion, the presidency said.
Oil accounts for 4% of GDP in Niger. By 2022, it's expected to represent 24%, according to the government.
Construction started at a site in Koulélé, located about 90 kilometers from Agadem in the Diffa region. During the launch ceremony, Mahamadou said the project would produce other economic benefits in the oil sector, such as jobs for youth and further development of oil fields.
He said the project would also stimulate the building of power plants, a new airfield in Koulélé, and road and social infrastructure in areas the pipeline crosses.