Today, the Irish company San Leon is leading the way in the onshore exploration of oil and gas in occupied Western Sahara.
On 13 December 2006, ONHYM (the Moroccan Government-owned entity) gave a licence to the Irish oil company Island Oil and Gas, for an area in the north-eastern parts of Western Sahara. The licence was actually given to a group consisting of the two Irish firms Island Oil and Gas and San Leon Energy Ltd - and the UK firm LongReach Oil & Gas Ventures (previously GB Oil & Gas Ventures). Island was, however, the engine behind the deal.
WSRW sent Island Oil a letter urging them to immediately terminate the agreement and asking for a meeting in Dublin. WSRW never received a reply to that letter. Island’s oil reconnaissance contract expired on the 24th of December 2008. WSRW sent them a letter the same day demanding the non-renewal of their engagement.
In October 2010, San Leon Energy acquired Island Oil and Gas. Together they will hold “70 percent gross interest, before the participation of ONYHM, in the onshore Zag and Tarfaya interests in Morocco,“ according to San Leon’s press release. Both these two blocks are mainly not in Morocco, however, but in Western Sahara. None of the letters sent to San Leon have so far been answered.
“The Government has consistently made clear its view that any exploration and exploitation activities that proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara would be in violation of the principles of international law applicable to natural resource activities in non-self governing territories. The Government would expect that any Irish company operating abroad would have due regard to the principles of international law and the rights of the inhabitants of the territory”, stated Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brain Cowen on 25 January 2011, in response to questions regarding illegal business practice by Irish companies in Western Sahara.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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Big oil’s interest in occupied Western Sahara has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Some companies are now drilling, in complete disregard of international law and the Saharawi people’s rights. Here’s what you need to know.