Aggressive onshore plans

Morocco has apparently launched a big onshore exploration programme in Western Sahara.
Published: 29.01 - 2009 20:04Printer version    
While a lot of attention has recently been given to the controversial US oil exploration offshore the occupied Western Sahara, Morocco is also carrying out what seems to be an aggressive programme for oil exploration onshore the territory.

Irish oil companies are taking the lead, in what is constituting a violation of international law, and a highly unethical support of the brutal occupation.

The most known onshore block is the socalled 'Zag block' in the north-eastern part of the territory. The reconnaissance contract was given to Irish company Island Oil and Gas, together with San Leon and Longreach (former GB Oil) in 2006. The block is covering the town of Smara, and parts of the territory that remains under the current control of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

onhym_map_350.jpgWhat is less known, is that the same group of companies also has 4 blocks in the El Aaiun area. El Aaiun is the capital of the occupied country. The acreage is marked with numbers 154, 155, 156 and 157 on the map to the right. The map was issued by the Moroccan state oil company ONHYM on 17 December 2008. The adjacent blocks 153, 152 and 151, also operated by the same firms, are located in Morocco.

Click on the map for bigger version. You can also download the map here.

The actual location of the blocks 154 to 157 - inside Western Sahara - comes as a surprise. Island Oil & Gas already on 11 April 2008 (see the press release below) announced that they had an agreement in what they said was "Tarfaya", together with their other two partners. Tarfaya is a costal town in Morocco proper. Island's partner San Leon also gave the same impression that the agreement was in Morocco, not in Western Sahara. They state on their homepages that the block lies "south of Agadir" (or download). It was therefore thought that the Tarfaya block was uncontroversial, located far into what is internationally recognised as Morocco. But the recent ONHYM map, however, shows that the Tarfaya Petroleum Agreement reaches into the most densely populated part of the territory of Western Sahara.

In 2008, Island Oil and Gas had planned to carry out seismic acquisition in Tarfaya area in 2009.

A third large area, until now unknown, has apparently been alotted to ONHYM itself. The blocks are numbered from 117 to 129, and comprises of a part of the coastal Western Sahara between the cities of El Aaiun and Dakhla. The section must have been awarded to ONHYM some time between January 2007 and April 2007. This time period appears since blocks are generally given out numerically. Since block number 116 (the 'Ouest Souss' onshore reconnaissance contract in the Agadir area) was awarded to GBP on 25th of January 2007, while block number 130 (the 'Asilah 1' onshore petroleum agreement in nothern Morocco) was awarded to Direct and Anshutz on April 11th 2007, it must logically follow that the ONHYM blocks in Western Sahara must have been awarded at a point in time between those two.

Block 117-129 has so far not been mentioned in any media reports in Morocco, as far as WSRW can see.

Morocco has no right to carry out oil exploration in Western Sahara, according to the UN. See the UN legal opinion from 2002 on the oil exploration in Western Sahara here.

Press Releases
11-04-2008 New Licence


Island Oil & Gas plc, (LSE:IOG) (“Island” or the “Company”), today announces that the Ministre de l’Energie, des Mines, de l’Eau et de l’Environment of Morocco has formally approved the ‘Tarfaya Onshore’ Petroleum Agreement (the ‘Permit’) awarded to Island’s wholly owned subsidiary Island International Exploration Morocco (“IIEM”) by the Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (“ONHYM”) in November 2007.  

The Permit is effective from 14 January 2008 and is valid for up to eight years. The work programme that has been committed to during the initial two years and six months phase of the Permit comprises seismic reprocessing and acquisition and geochemical modeling. A drill or drop decision will be made at the end of the initial phase of the Permit. It is currently anticipated that seismic will be acquired in 2009.  

The joint venture partners in the Tarfaya Permit are IIEM (40%), the designated operator, Longreach Oil and Gas Ventures Limited (30%) and San Leon (Morocco) Limited (30%).  

Morocco has an attractive fiscal regime relative to other North African oil and gas producing countries – State Participation upon production of up to 25%; a 10% royalty on oil production (the first 300,000 tons of production are exempt) and a 5% royalty on gas production (the first 300 million cubic meters are exempt); and 35% corporation tax which is only payable after a 10 year holiday on production.  

11 April 2008



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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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