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Total S.A.´s Anzarane Offshore Western Sahara Oil Exploitation

Political injustice compounded by environmental injustice: French oil company Total in Illegal Anzarane Offshore Western Sahara Oil Exploitation


Petroleum resources are exploited in Western Sahara by multinational companies, under the approval of Moroccan government. In 2001, Morocco´s Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM) granted two licenses to exploit petroleum in Western Sahara to TotalFinaElf (France) and Kosmos Energy (USA). The contract for the actual extraction of oil found in the area went to the French company TotalFinaElf (now Total S.A.) on October 20th, 2001.  Though they officially withdrew from the territory in 2004, Total´s activities resurfaced in 2011 with a reconnaissance license for the biggest oil block located in the southern waters of Western Sahara (pink block on map above).  In 2012, the license was renewed by Total S.A. for a twelve-month period of seismic exploration of a block called Anzarane Offshore, which was carried within this 100,927 square kilometer block out during 2012 and 2013. In December 2015, Total S.A. announced that it would not prolong its reconnaissance contract, as the initial results were not convincing. This decision comes on the heels of the denial by the Court of Justice for the EU of an EU-Moroccan trade agreement due to its inclusion of Western Sahara. Morocco has been accused of failing to respect the UN Charter in regards to its dealings with Western Sahara, which it illegally annexed during the past 40 years since 1975.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Total S.A.´s Anzarane Offshore Western Sahara Oil Exploitation
State or province:Anzarane (Off-Shore) Dakhla
Location of conflict:Western Sahara
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Anzarene oil exploration project is managed by Total S.A., and affiliate of Total international. Total, operating in more the 130 countries worldwide, was founded in 1924 and headquartered in Courbevoie (Paris) France. Total is a major oil company in the world, listed on the New York and Euronext Stock Exchange. As stated in Total´s Code of Conduct, ¨human rights standards are one of our three priority business principles.¨ When the company signed a reconnaissance contract with the Moroccan government in October 2001, the legal department of the UN Security Council investigated whether the contract stood in line with international law governing the rights of peoples in disputed territories. In January 2004, UN legal counsel concluded that further exploration or exploitation that is not in accordance with the wishes of the people of Western Sahara would be in violation of international law. Total´s operations ended in November 2004, when it decided not to prolong its operations in Western Sahara, citing the lack of oil in the region. Yet, the relationship was reaffirmed in December 2011, when Total S.A. signed a new reconnaissance agreement with the Moroccan government. During the course of the following year July 2012 to July 2013, seismic studies were carried out extensively by the firm in the seabed surrounding the Anzarene oil fields located in the South of Western Sahara, and later in Total S.A. announced plans to acquire a further 1,500 kilometer of seismic studies during the autumn of 2015. The SADR issued a statement in June 2014 that specified the lack of involvement of the Sahrawi people in the decisions being made about their resources.

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Project area:10,092,700
Level of Investment:75,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:01/10/2001
End of the conflict:22/12/2015
Company names or state enterprises:Total SA from France
Relevant government actors:The French government
Moroccan government
American government
Algerian government
International and Finance InstitutionsUN Human Rights Council (OHCHR)
UN Security Council - Leverage referendum in Western Sahara
United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)
European Commission (EC)
African Union
UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Western Sahara Action Forum (UK)
Western Sahara Resource Watch
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International
National Human Rights Council (CNDH, Morocco)
African Union’s Peace and Security Council
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Boycotts of companies-products
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The conflict is rooted both in political injustice and in environmental injustice. The on-going mobilization has driven away several extractive industries, due in part to successful international campaigning on the part of human rights groups. On 7 February 2014, the French arm of Total renewed its contract, granted by Morocco in 2011, to explore for oil off the shores of Western Sahara. The ensuing controversy led Norwegian pension fund KLP to withdraw from the company, citing anxiety around “breaches of fundamental ethical norms”. Sustained protest by Sahrawi activists recently pushed Norwegian contractor Aker Solutions to pull out of a US-led offshore drilling project. On December 22nd 2015, Total announced its withdrawal from Western Sahara until the UN delivers an outcome on the pending decolonization case. While this is the main reason for this to be declared a success, there is still potential for the project to restart again, which should be monitored. Alternatively, Kosmos Energy (see case study in EJAtlas) remains active in the region. Other oil companies have been granted licenses for oil exploration and are still enjoying them. These include the following: Kerr-McGee (USA), Longreach Oil and Gas Ventures (UK), Kosmos Energy (US), Cairn Energy (UK), San León Marruecos (Ireland), ONHYM (Morocco).
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Western Sahara Resource Watch. September 2013. Totally Wrong.
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[2] Western Sahara Resource Watch. November 2015. Briefing Total S.A.: Blazing a Trail for a Bloos Oil Rush on Occupied Land. Accessed Online 10 Nov 2016:
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Total has left occupied Western Sahara

The French multinational oil company has announced that it is no longer pursuing oil search offshore Western Sahara. "More good news for the Saharawi people. We urge the remaining oil companies to follow suit", stated WSRW.
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Report: Injustice Totale

WSRW explains how French company Total has been involved in oil exploration off the coasts of Western Sahara.
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Demonstrations dispersed during UN visit to Western Sahara (3 May 2014)

Moroccan police violently dispersed two pro-independence demonstrations in Western Sahara over a period of 48 hours as a UN human rights delegation visited the region, rights groups said Friday. They said around 15 people were wounded, but that could not be confirmed by official sources.
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Refugees in Western Sahara eye avenue for change, step up activism (14 April 2015)

Nearly 40 years later after her grandmother fled from advancing soldiers, Bachir lives in the Tindouf refugee camps on the far-western peripheries of Algeria, which are home to an estimated 165,000 people, an increasingly articulate and active youth movement and a long-held anger that threatens to boil over into violence once again.
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Morocco-elections: Polisario distraught by strong mobilization in Western Sahara

The Polisario is seriously worried by the strong mobilization and involvement of the inhabitants of the Moroccan Southern provinces or Western Sahara in the municipal and regional elections of September 4, when for the first time the local and regional councilors are being elected at direct universal suffrage.
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Western Sahara

General background information into the conflict between the Polisario and Morocco
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El expolio de los recursos naturales del Sahara Occidental
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What is Total doing in Western Sahara ?

The French company Total, along with other multinationals, has recently started oil and gas exploration off Western Saharan – a territory which has been under Moroccan occupation for almost forty years. These activities raise ethical issues about consultation with local communities and fair distribution of potential revenues. Saharawi activists have spoken up their concerns for years about the oil firm, denouncing its role in undermining the territory’s sovereignty. Total is also critised by some ethical investors, most notably Norvegian funds.
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Contributor:Julie Snorek, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
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