Irish firms to explore Tarfaya oil - on Western Sahara border

But on which side of the border?
Published: 22.06 - 2009 07:00Printer version    
San Leon Energy, Island Oil and Gas and Longreach Oil and Gas Ventures have signed a 3 year Memorandum of Understanding with the Moroccan state oil company ONHYM for an oil shale project in the Tarfaya block.

tn_onhym_map_610.jpgThe agreement will make it possible for the firms to carry out on-site testing from later this year. San Leon can later convert the area into a licence. This is revealed in a press release from San Leon on 1 June 2009. See press release here (or download pdf).

However, it is not clear if this advanced exploration will take place on the Moroccan or Western Saharan side of the international border. The Tarfaya block is partially located in Morocco, partially in Western Sahara.

If it is taking place in Western Sahara, it would be in violation of international law, and highly controversial both politically and ethically, supporting the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.

sanleon_tarfaya_map1_300.jpgUnsure location
The permits which were originally awarded to Island/San Leon/Longreach on 14 january 2008 covered 13434 square kilometres, and are divided into 7 separate blocks. You find the 7 sections on the ONHYM map above.

The new oil shale deal, however, only covers 6000 of those 13434 which the Tarfaya blocks are covering. It has not yet been revealed on which side of the internationally recognised border that the new oil shell project is located, whether it is on the north side (in Morocco), or on the south side (in Western Sahara).

Two maps appearing on the homepages of San Leon, do not make it much clearer apart from the fact that it is practically ON the border, or perhaps just north of it. The two maps locate a shell oil structure just in the border zone. See the maps to the right and below. A third map, at the bottom, is of such a poor resolution that it is hard to tell really what it shows.

The information on San Leon’s homepages refers furthermore to former tests in the area executed by Shell in the 1980s. The Western Sahara expert and writer Tony Hodges, has written in the book “The Roots of a Desert War”, that these tests were only done on the north side of the border.

sanleon_tarfaya_map2_300.jpg“Shell decided to restrict its activity to the north of the pre-1975 border, though the shale reserves are thought to stretch south across the border”, Hodges wrote.

It is also stated on San Leon homepages that the “Tarfaya Basin is situated in SW Morocco is a tectonically stable Mesozoic Basin, which extends along the southern Moroccan coast between latitudes 27º 40 and 28º 40.” If the coordinates are correct, the exploration would only be located in Morocco proper. However, even the geology of north-western parts of Western Sahara are often referred to as Tarfaya Basin.

Tarfaya 1-7 is even the name given to the original blocks, of which some approximately 60% lie within Western Sahara.

San Leon wrote in their press release that it estimates reserves of billions of barrels of recoverable oil from the Tarfaya oil shale over the 6000 area.

San Leon has furthermore entered into an agreement with the Utah based Mountain West Energy LLC for their In Situ Vapor Extraction oil shale technology.
Island Oil and Gas has not issued a press release on this new development.

Map explanations from San Leon homepages (referring to the 3 bottom maps above)

San Leon map 1.  Location map of the oil shales in Morocco.
1: Timahdit , 2: Tarfaya, 3:Tangier, 4: Beni  Arous, 5: Oulad Abdoun, 6: Tetouan, 7: Chaouen, 8: Jebel Tazarn, 9: Achouamat,  10: Targest, 11: Oued Arris, 12: Bou Ourd, 13: Tahar Essouk, 14: Tammada, 15:  Immouzer, 16: Arhbala, 17:, Tinghir, 18: Toukert, 19: Tadala, 20: Gantour, 21  Dar Caid Zeltani, 22: Min Touzrou, 23: Al Khountrir, 24: Agadir

San Leon map 2. Location map of the Cenomanian-Turonian oil shale deposits in Morocco with  their depositional paleoenvironments.
1: Tangier; 2: Timahdit; 3: Ait Oufalla  basin; 4: Haute Moulouya basin; 5: Bahira-Tadla basin; 6: Essaouira; 7: Souss  basin; 8: Oued Dades basin; 9: Tarfaya area and 10: Guir basin

San Leon map 3. Geological map of Tarfaya area and location map of the Upper Cretaceous sections
A: Tah West, B: Tah North, C: Ed Dzaroua-Tazra, D: Oued Chebeika.




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