- The exiled government of Western Sahara and pro-Sahrawi activist today are celebrating that the last foreign oil company has announced its withdrawal from the waters off the Moroccan-occupied territory. The US company Kerr-McGee said it would not renew its contract with Morocco regarding offshore oil explorations in Western Sahara, which ended on 30 April.
Kerr-McGee thus is the last in a row of international oil companies pulling out of the disputed Western Sahara territory, following pressure from the exiled Sahrawi government and numerous pro-Sahrawi groups around the world. Along with other companies engaged in Sahrawi waters by the Moroccan government, Kerr-McGee was subject to successful divestment campaigns by the activists, causing large international funds to sell out their shares on ethical grounds.
The US company has yet to make a public statement about its withdrawal from the Moroccan-occupied territory, but the well-informed petroleum industry magazine 'Upstream' today quoted the company as saying that "Western Sahara did not fit in with the new strategy as it 'was not a proven hydrocarbons basin'." Kerr-McGee would therefore invest in countries such as China, Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago, while leaving behind its engagement in Western Sahara - or "southern Morocco", as the company still says.
Kerr-McGee is the operator on a reconnaissance permit at the Boujdour block, located outside central Western Sahara. Here, the US company has been drilling for possible oil and gas reservoirs in geological formations that earlier have been described as very promising. The drilling locations were also based on unfinished data provided by seismic explorations companies that were pressured to give up their Western Sahara contracts at an earlier stage.
The Boujdour permit has so far been operated by Kerr-McGee, holding a 50 percent stake, with two other US exploring companies - Pioneer Natural Resources and Kosmos Energy - holding minority stakes. Pioneer and Kosmos have yet to decide on how to proceed as the block's operator has quit the permit.
Pro-Sahrawi activist have seen the oil exploration off the coast of Western Sahara as one of the main obstacles to make Morocco give up its occupation of the territory. Potential oil exploration, according to a UN legal opinion, would be contrary to international law as Western Sahara remains a colonised country. International oil companies however have shown a great interest in Sahrawi waters despite the UN verdict, creating a fear that the Moroccan occupation would be cemented over time.
Last year, activists united in the world-wide Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) to fight the remaining oil companies active in the territory, and other foreign companies exploiting phosphate and fisheries resources. WSRW leader Carlos Wilson, based in California, holds that the campaign against Kerr-McGee (KMG) has been the company's main reason for pulling out of Western Sahara, despite its own claims.
"The facts speak for themselves," Mr Wilson told afrol News. "First, they lost all their subcontractors due to us. Later, WSRW contacted their shareholders in 25 countries worldwide. The result is that KMG lost European investors for some US$ 60 million, and they have even been blacklisted by ethical share analysts. KMG has without doubt been seriously affected by this."
During the last few months, the campaign against Kerr-McGee grew stronger in the company's home the US state Oklahoma. "Over the last couple of months, WSRW has been in contact with all the Evangelical churches in Oklahoma. We have had response from hundreds, if not thousands, of concerned individual Christians, and most of these people actually contacted the company. Something that has touched the Christian community in Oklahoma a lot, is the letter that the political prisoners in the Black Prison of El Aaiun sent to the president of Kerr-McGee earlier this year," Mr Wilson says.
Now, the activists plan to concentrate their work towards the two remaining sub-contractors on the Boujdour permit, Kosmos and Pioneer, to avoid that the two try to gain an operator status. Mr Wilson told afrol News that WSRW had been in contact with the two companies today. "They have not given us any comment on what they will do, but referred us to Kerr-McGee as the operator of the block. That is bizarre, because since KMG did not renew the contract, they are of course not longer operator," Mr Wilson noted.
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