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Cape Boujdour (Offshore Block) oil and gas exploration, Western Sahara


In 2006, when Kerr-McGee withdrew from Western Sahara, the US oil company Kosmos Energy and Morocco's ministry for natural resources and mines signed their first agreement for an offshore oil exploration project off the coast from the town of Cape Boujdour in Western Sahara, that the block is named after. It will be drilling in waters about 2135 meters deep. The initial agreement was made for a period of 18 months, but it has since then been renewed on a number of occasions.

Kosmos has plans to start its first exploration later in 2015, together with UK's Cairn Energy and the Moroccan national company (ONHYM). .

The drilling in this area (220 km from the Canary Islands) has been criticized particularly because of the disputed geopolitical status of the territory. In 2002, a UN Legal Advisor's Opinion concluded, that although the specific contracts are not in themselves illegal, “if exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interest and wishes of the people of Western Sahara”, this activities would be “in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories”. It has moreover been claimed, that oil offshore exploration would undermine the UN peace process in the area.

The indigenous Sahrawi people in Western Sahara have been protesting against the oil exploration since the negotiations between Kosmos and the Moroccan government started, also with the support of the local NGO Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW). In a letter to the company Kosmos, the Sahrawi Center for Media and Communication (SCMC) stated that the Sahrawi people had not been consulted about the operation on the land and coastal waters of Western Sahara and that they had never given their consent, as all negotiations had been conducted with the Moroccan government only. In 2014, the involved companies have carried out duplicitous consultation processes where they met with pro-Moroccan groups to support their project.

Since the beginning of the negotiations started, the Sahrawi people have protested against the project, there have been street protests, mobilization in the media etc. To engage in this type of protest has become more and more dangerous as activists have received lifetime sentences by a Moroccan military court for protesting and have been severely beaten by police forces during peaceful protests.

Meanwhile, Kosmos has not backed down from its plans to start its first explorations at the end of this year. It has failed to reply to all requests regarding the operations and has maintained its operations.

When Kosmos starts drilling in Western Sahara at the end of 2015, it will be the first time since 1999 that drilling will take place offshore an occupied part of a Non-Self-Governing Territory. When this happened in East Timor during its Indonesian occupation, the activities were widely criticized, condemned and acknowledged as illegal.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Cape Boujdour (Offshore Block) oil and gas exploration, Western Sahara
Location of conflict:Cape Boujdour (Offshore Block), Western Sahara
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local 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
Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Prospect: estimates range from 500 million to 1 billion barrels of oil.

Project area:3,035,142
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:40,000 – 60,000 (population size of the town of Cape Bojador/Cap Boujdour)
Start of the conflict:01/01/2002
Company names or state enterprises:Kosmos Energy from United States of America
Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM) from Morocco
Cairn Energy from United Kingdom
Relevant government actors:Morocco Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM) - Morocco's natural resources and mines ministry
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW):
Sahrawi Center for Media and Communication (SCMC)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Oil spills
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Kosmos has plans to start its first exploration later this year, together with UK's Cairn Energy and the Moroccan national company (ONHYM). The right to self determination of the Sahrawi people, recognized by UN resolutions and international law, has not been respected.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Agreement between Kosmos and Moroccan government for the exploitation of “Boujdour Offshore”, Arrêté du ministre de l’énergie, des mines, de l’eau et de l’environnement no. 1498-06 du 29 joumada I 1427 (26 juin 2006) approuvant l’accord pétrolier conclu le 4 rabii 1427 (3 mai 2006) entre l’Office national des hydrocarbures et des mines, représentant le Royaume du Maroc et la sociéte « Kosmos Energy Offshore Morocco HC ». Published in Bulletin Officiel 5448, 17.08.2006, p. 1161,

UN Security Council, Letter dated 29 January 2002 from the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel, addressed to the President of the Security Council, 12.02.2002, S/2002/161,

All other relevant agreements between Kosmos and the Moroccan government (including renewals presented as decrees/regulations by the government of Morocco) from 2006 to 2011 can be found here:

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

WSRW (2014), A Platform for Conflict. Kosmos Energy's drilling for oil in occupied Western Sahara, WSRW Report, October 2014,

Report in Oil News, 2015

CORELL, Hans (2008), The legality of exploring and exploiting natural resources in Western Africa, Conference on multilateralism and international law with Western Sahara as a case study: Pretoria, South Africa, 4 and 5 December 2008, ;

Saharawis demonstrating against Kosmos Energy in occupied territory, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), 18.10.2014,

UNRIC Interview with Hans Corell, Former UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, 10.01.2014 (EN) (original)

Kosmos Energy, Position Statement on Hydrocarbon Exploration Offshore Western Sahara, February 2014,

Kosmos could commence drilling next year in occupied Sahara, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), 13.06.2013,

U.S. Oil Firm Creates Tension over Western Sahara, Inter Press Service, News Agency, by Bryant Harris, 11.03.2014,

Oil drilling is illegal without Saharawi consent, Corell stresses, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), 24.10.2014,

For dummies: Kosmos drilling in occupied Western Sahara, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), 07.10.2014,

Simmering Saharan conflict stirred by offshore oil search, REUTERS, by Lin Noueihed, 13.01.2014,

Offshore Morocco Set for a Busy Year, Rigzone, by Jon Mainwaring, 17.01.2014,

Kosmos drilling plan stirs hornets' nest in Western Sahara, African Energy, 22.11.2013,

Kosmos Energy Homepage – Western Sahara Oil and Gas Exploration:

Sahrawi Slam US Oil Exploration in Western Sahara, teleSUR, 24.09.2014,

Kosmos Energy finalizes Cap Boujdour Farm-out with Cairn Energy, Dallas, Business Wire, 28.10.2013,

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Saharawis demonstrating against Kosmos Energy in occupied territory, 18.10.2014,

Kosmos Presentation, Offshore Aiaun Basin Petrolem System, Cap Boujdour:

Kosmos energy: Get out of occupied Western Sahara: ; ;

Meta information

Last update18/08/2019