KINSHASA, May 30 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's oil ministry has called for bids to exploit reserves of methane gas at the bottom of Lake Kivu on its eastern border with Rwanda, the prime minister's office said on Friday.
The office announced the tender on its twitter account but did not give details. An oil ministry official said the tender process had not yet begun but added that Congo needed the gas to help meet its energy deficit.
"It is very important that we exploit this gas, because otherwise it has the potential to explode and cause significant damage to the population," said the ministry official, who requested anonymity.
Methane and carbon dioxide collect at the bottom of the lake's icy waters. Although there has been no major incident on Lake Kivu in recent times, in 1986 a gas leak on Lake Nyos in Cameroon, which has smaller concentrations, suffocated about 1,700 people.
Congo's vast network of rivers has the potential to generate 100,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power, according to the government, enough to supply much of Africa. But that potential is largely unexploited, and currently only 9 percent of Congo's population has access to power.
Methane is already being exploited on the Rwandan side of Lake Kivu to produce around 26 MW of power, and operator U.S.-based company ContourGlobal plans to expand capacity to 100 MW.
Congo also has vast mineral deposits of diamonds, gold, tin, coltan and cobalt, and the economy depends on the mining sector. Meeting energy demand has become a government priority.
Industrial mining operators have only recently come to Congo's troubled eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, which have been the scene of violent conflicts stretching back for nearly two decades. (Reporting By Peter Jones; Editing by Joe Bavier and Jane Baird)