Oil exploration in Western Sahara is illegal. 29th of January 2002, the UN Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Mr. Hans Corell, wrote to the Security Council that "if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law". Download the legal opinion here.
Despite this, Morocco keeps looking for oil. The Moroccan state oil company ONHYM has given five licences for oil exploration and production in Western Sahara.
None of the involved companies have at any point in history sought the consent of the people of the territory, which would have been a prerequisite for its legality, in accordance with the UN legal opinion.
Offshore The firm Kosmos Energy Offshore Morocco HC, a subsidiary of the Bermuda registered firm Kosmos Energy Ltd, holds a licence for oil exploration on the offshore Boujdour block. The licence is a continuation of Kerr-McGee’s former licence. Drilling scheduled for November 2014, on the rig 'Atwood Achiever'. Read more about the Kosmos Energy involvement here.
French oil company Total SA holds the Anzarane block further south, the biggest of all blocks. Total SA has signed licences for the same area in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2011, 2012, 2013. Total has made highly costly surveys offshore the occupied territory. Read more about Total in the WSRW report Totally Wrong (2013).
Both Kosmos and Total have signed declarations with ONHYM that they have a mutual understanding that the companies will undertake production in the future.
A third offshore company is the little known Teredo Oils.
Onshore The UK based companies San Leon Morocco Ltd and the PetroMaroc (formerly known as Longreach Oil and Gas Ventures) hold, together with Moroccan state owned oil company ONHYM, two onshore exploration licences. One is in Tarfaya Basin, on the north-western part of Western Sahara. The area consists of oil shale. The second is the Zag licence located in the north-eastern part of Western Sahara, on the border to Morocco. According to the firms involved, Zag could contain gas deposits.
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.