* Plans up to five wells in Kenya, two in Somalia's Puntland
* Sees closure on acquisition of Lion Energy soon
* Vanoil also to drill one well in 2012
(Adds Vanoil in para 5)
By George Obulutsa
NAIROBI, May 17 (Reuters) - Canadian oil and gas explorer Africa Oil Corp (AOI.V) plans to drill up to eight exploratory wells in blocks it holds interests in across east Africa, a senior company executive said on Tuesday.
Africa Oil and its partners hold exploration licences in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region.
"We'll start a drilling programme beginning in September 2011. Tullow as an operator will drill four to five wells in Kenya and Africa Oil Corp and PLP (its Puntland Partner) will drill two wells in Puntland and one well in Ethiopia," James Phillips, Africa Oil Corp's chief operating officer, told a regional oil and gas meeting in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Phillips said he had a $43 million budget for the drilling programme.
Canada's Vanoil Energy VEL.V said it too expected to dig a single well in 2012 in Block 3A in Kenya, Dal Brynelsen, the company's chief executive said at the same conference.
Africa Oil expects to finalise a deal to acquire Canada's Lion Energy Corp LEO.V for about C$40.3 million in an all-stock deal to expand their operations in east Africa. [ID:nL3E7E814O]
"We'll be closing that deal hopefully in early June," Phillips said.
Gas discoveries in Tanzania, and significant proven oil reserves along the border between Uganda and Congo have encouraged interest in the region, which had been largely overlooked. (Editing by Richard Lough and Anthony Barker)