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.