Escalation to full exploration in Smara

Irish oil firms will explore for oil in the Smara area in complete violation of international law.
Published: 22.06 - 2009 08:01Printer version    
The first licence in the area around Smara, occupied Western Sahara, was awarded to a group of 3 Irish oil firms in December 2006. The block was named “Zag”.

Now, the work obligations under the reconnaissance licence is said to have been completed.

“As a result of the positive results received from this work the Company has successfully negotiated with ONHYM the conversion of the Reconnaissance Licence into a full Exploration Licence beginning in June, 2009”, states San Leon, one of the firms on its homepages. See homepages, or  download here.

The other two firms involved in the controversial deal are Island Oil and Gas, and Longreach. Western Sahara Resource Watch and Frente Polisario have on numerous occasions protested the involvement, but to no avail. WSRW first protested to Island Oil and Gas on 13 December 2008, the day after they signed their first agreement.

According to a story from Moroccan state news agency MAP, the renegotiated Zag agreement covers 21672,5 square kilometres. This is approximately the same size as the Zag block which was known from earlier (21807 In the MAP release, it is also informed that the Zag block is subdivided into 11 smaller permits, “Zag 1 to 11”. See MAP pages or download here (pdf).

The concessions of a full exploration licence inside the Non-Self Governing territory of Western Sahara is in complete violation of international law, as established by the UN legal office in 2002.

"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 applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories", the opinion concluded.

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Micheál Martin TD, hopes the Irish oil company Island Oil and Gas would respect international law.

"I would hope that any Irish company operating abroad would have due regard to the principles of international law and the rights of indigenous peoples", Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin TD, said in a question in the Irish parliament last year when asked how the government views the activites of Island.

The licence to San Leon/Island Oil/Longreach was negotiated simultaneously as Island Oil got 2 other blocks in Morocco proper. A press release from Island Oil and Gas 19 June 2009, mentions that a consortium of Island Oil and Gas, Serica Energy and ONHYM were awarded two 8 year petroleum agreements in the areas of Sidi Moussa Offshore and Foum Draa Offshore, both located offshore, some 100 km south west of the city of Agadir.  



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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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