The oil companies working with Morocco in occupied Western Sahara
Despite the protests from Saharawis, Morocco has to this day continued its illegal oil programme, through the Moroccan state owned oil company Office national des hydrocarbures et des mines, ONHYM. Seven oil and gas licences have so far been awarded in Western Sahara. The names of the blocks depicted on the map below use ONHYM's spelling. Scroll further down for more information about each block and its operators.
San Leon Energy is an Irish oil company that operates two licences in occupied Western Sahara. The first licence corresponds to the Tarfaya Onshore block located onshore in the northwestern part of Western Sahara (map: light blue coloured blocks). The second licence relates to the Zag block in the northeastern part of Western Sahara (map: light brown coloured blocks). Both blocks are located partially in Western Sahara, partially in Morocco proper. San Leon holds a majority share in both blocks, with 52.5% on the Zag licence, and 75% on the Tarfaya licence. San Leon Energy is the first company to have drilled onshore in Western Sahara under occupation. In September 2015, the company announced it had hit gas in the Tarfaya block (although the find was small) and that it would engage in further seismic work. The company is registered on the London Stock Exchange's Alternative Investment Market (AIM)
With its 55% share, American oil company Kosmos Energy operates the Cap Boujdour Offshore block, located off the mid-coast of occupied Western Sahara (map: yellow coloured blocks). In October 2013, Kosmos Energy found a partner in Scottish Cairn Energy which took on a 20% stake. The third partner is ONHYM (25%). Kosmos Energy commenced the first ever drilling operation in Western Sahara in December 2014.
A Moroccan subsidiary of Swiss firm Glencore PLC, Glencore Exploration & Production (Morocco) Ltd, holds a stake in two offshore oil blocks in occupied Western Sahara. In 2013, the company obtained a licence for the Boujdour Offshore Shallow block, located in the northernmost part of Western Sahara’s territorial waters (map: light green coloured blocks). A year later, Glencore also took an 18.75% participating interest in the Foum Ognit block, situated just south of the Boujdour Offshore Shallow block (map: blue blocks in Western Sahara’s waters). In 2014, Glencore carried out seismic work on the Foum Ognit block.
CAIRN ENERGY PLC
In 2013, Scottish oil firm Cairn Energy Plc took in a 20% working interest in the Boujdour block, located off the mid-coast of occupied Western Sahara (map: yellow coloured blocks). Operating the block is the American oil company Kosmos Energy. Together, Kosmos and Cairn are responsible for the first ever drilling operation in Western Sahara under Moroccan occupation, as carried between December 2014 and February 2015.
NEW AGE (AFRICAN GLOBAL ENERGY) LTD
UK-based, Jersey registered, company New Age Ltd holds the operatorship of the Foum Ognit exploration permit, which covers the 8,013 km² Foum Ognit block that is located in the northern parts of the territorial waters of occupied Western Sahara (map: blue offshore blocks). In 2013, the company teamed up with Swiss commodity trading and mining company Glencore Plc, which currently holds an 18.75% interest in the block. New Age holds a 56.25% stake, while the remaining 25% sits with the Moroccan government through the state-owned oil firm ONHYM.
TEREDO OILS LTD
Teredo Oils Ltd is a British oil and gas production company that signed a reconnaissance contract for the Boujdour Offshore Shallow block with the Moroccan government in February 2011. The block is located in the northernmost parts of Western Sahara's territorial waters (map: green coloured blocks) Today, Teredo still holds a 36.75% interest of the licence, after Swiss firm Glencore plc took over the operatorship in September 2013. The company is linked to another firm called Imara, a small Canadian registered company which has also claimed to be owning interest in the Boujdour licence. Both Imara and Teredo are the companies of businessman Mr. Alan Soulsby.
PETROMAROC CORPORATION PLC
PetroMaroc Corporation plc, formerly known as Longreach Oil and Gas Ltd, is an oil and gas company that works closely with the Moroccan government. The company operates under licences for oil blocks located in Morocco proper, but also in occupied Western Sahara. PetroMaroc holds a 22.5% stake in the Zag oil block operated by San Leon Energy. The block is located on the border between Morocco and Western Sahara, but the larger part of each is within the Western Sahara territory. PetroMaroc previously had an interest also in the Tarfaya block - from 2007 to 2014. PetroMaroc Corporation plc is registered in Jersey, and is a subsidiary of a company with the same name in Canada.
XPLORER PLC Little is known about the status of this UK registered company. In 2014 it announced that it had entered into a memorandum of understanding with Teredo for purchase of working interest in the Boujdour Offshore Shallow. See more about this here. No further information is seen since.
VINCI and ATWOOD OCEANICS
Notice also that Entrepose, a subsidiary of the French company VINCI, undertook drilling for San Leon Energy in 2015, and that San Leon has promised to do more drilling in the territory. Atwood Oceanics are the owners of the drillship Atwood Achiever which carried out the first drilling offshore the territory, for Kosmos Energy. The latter has promised to return with more drilling. Will Vinci and Atwood do those jobs?
Companies that left Western Sahara
French multinational Total SA was awarded its first contract for reconnaissance work in occupied Western Sahara in 2001. This prompted a UN Legal Opinion on the matter, concluding that any exploration or exploitation of Western Sahara’s mineral resources is illegal if not in accordance with the wishes and the interests of the people of the territory. Though having officially withdrawn from the territory in 2004, Total resurfaced in 2011 with a reconnaissance licence for the biggest oil block in Western Sahara; the Anzarane block, located in the southern waters of the territory (map: pink block). Total announced in December 2015 that it would not prolong its reconnaissance contract, as first test results weren't convincing.
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.
Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
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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.