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Kosmos drilling plan stirs hornets’ nest in Western Sahara

Plans by Kosmos Energy and partner Cairn Energy to drill a well next year in a Moroccan-licensed block in the Western Sahara continue to provoke intense interest among oil companies excited by the disputed territory’s offshore potential, as well as political debate among the traditional protagonists. The territory is Moroccan-controlled, but officially under United Nations mandate, and debate centres on a legal opinion issued by UN general counsel Hans Corell in 2002, which stated that exploration and extraction of mineral resources in Western Sahara would be illegal “only if conducted in disregard of the needs and interests of the people of that territory”. This has allowed Morocco’s Office Cherifien des Phosphates to maintain output from its Phosboucraa subsidiary, which is a major employer in the region. However, the Corell judgment – which one official told African Energy, “we’ve all been re-reading recently” – has been generally interpreted as excluding new E&P work.

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