Continental Focus, International Reach

Morocco Makes Pledges on Western Sahara Exploration

Friday, February 7, 2014

According to reports some companies who have been awarded acreage off the coast of Western Sahara have pledged to abide by international rules. Total, Kosmos Energy, and the government of Morocco have all pledged that the local population would benefit from discoveries.

The dispute between the Saharawi and Morocco over the sovereignty of Western Sahara has been going on for decades, but not making much of a splash internationally until Morocco started to hand out exploration permits for acreage offshore Western Sahara. Now Kosmos has said it plans to drill its first exploration well off Western Sahara this year.

Reuters said that Morocco signed a declaration with each of the companies. The declarations are seen by some as the government’s first real attempt at upholding international rules, although whether Morocco will actually seek to include the locals has yet to be seen. “The exploration and production of hydrocarbon natural resources will contribute in a transparent manner to the development of the regions concerned,” the declaration between Kosmos and state-run ONHYM reads. Another letter signed by Total and posted on ONHYM’s website makes a similar pledge.

Both statements also promise to consult with the local population in accordance with ‘international standards’ although activists such as the Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) basically said the pledges did not represent a serious attempt to resolve the conflict.

“If Morocco at any point had any intention of seriously consulting the people of Western Sahara they would have cooperated with the United Nations in carrying out a referendum on self-determination,” said Erik Hagen of WSRW in the Reuters report. “In the declarations, they refer to it as a region of Morocco even though it is not recognized internationally as such… What is the mechanism by which Morocco will consult? Half the Saharawi people are living in refugee camps.”

Activists have successfully campaigned in the past for investors to divest from oil firms active in the region. Hagen said WSRW was campaigning for more such divestment. “Investors were sitting on the fence, wondering if Total would proceed or not. Now they’ll get off the fence,” he said.