The Taoudeni Basin, spanning from the southern edge of Algeria through northwestern Mali and across Mauritania is one of the main structural units of the West African Craton and the largest sedimentary basin in Africa with an area of approximately two million square kilometers and 5,000 meters thick. Originally, the name stems from the town Taoudenit, a site where salt excavation and trade has persisted since 16th Century. Along with salt, the basin possesses gold, phosphate, natural gas, petroleum, and water, held within what used to be an ancient sea of fresh water. Climate in Taoudeni is extremely harsh, with temperatures climbing to 40 or 48 degrees Celsius during the hottest time of the year.
Even with the country barely prepared to elect a new president after the coup d’etat in 2012, leaders in Mali affirmed the importance of pulling in investment as an important step in securing peace and stability in northern Mali and the broader region (Oumar 2013). And, bringing in this investment requires a certain level of security. Ould Habib, political analyst from Mauritania stated, “[p]erhaps the Malien government understood that by bringing in the international coalition against terrorism, that there was an opportunity to bring in investment to the zone, and once the security is established and the military maintains the peace, supported by the West, who have installed themselves in the area.” (ibid.) The “opportunity of the war against terrorism” is thus to push forward a route towards development, build the economy around extractives, and, presumably reduce the chaos currently dominating the country (Kabada Ould Abdelrahman, quoted in Oumar 2013).
Since this petroleum push at the turn of the Century, multiple international companies have purchased, sold, and repurchased holdings in the Taoudeni basin. While shifting regional security has produced changes in the makeup of holdings over time, there are over 15 companies currently or in the past who have held exploration contracts, and only one with an exploitation contract. In Mali, foreign investors include: Baraka Energy and Resources Limited (Australia), Sonatrach (Algeria), New Catalyst (USA), Heritage Oil (Canada), Circle Oil PLC (Ireland), Raven Resource Group (UEA), Selier Energy (Canada), Sphere Investments Ltd. (Canada), Markmore Group (Malaysia), Simba Energy (Canada), Statoil (Norway), African Oil Corporation (Canada). In Mauritania, foreign investors are: Total (France), Repsol (Spain), Qatar Petroleum (Qatar). All of these companies have current or had past holdings in the basin. While exploration has not yet translated to extraction, there have been several wells drilled on seismic testing in the blocks that have been sold.
The Mali Peace Accords were signed in January of 2015. Moreover, since the signing of the Peace Accords, administrative units have been established in the newly established Taoudeni region. More recently with the visits of Economy Minister and later President Emmanuel Macron to Mali, the European Union invested 50 million euros (55.8 million dollars) in the war against terror. and Macron called upon the United Nations to further fund the efforts to maintain peace and security in this oil-rich region. There are also German troops in the region. In May 19, 2017, Macron's second visit broad as new President abroad was to Mali, in a high level mission. While it appears that the France-Mali securitization strategy will be extended, operation BARKHANE has had little to show for its 3-years of counter-terrorism efforts in the region (Chelbi 2017). As stated by Yvan Guichaoua, “States that accept this foreign presence win credibility externally, but are weakened internally. It creates a quasi-protectorat” (Carayol 2016).
Summaries by company:
Baraka Energy and Resources Limited (Australia): In October 2004, five large exploration permits (Blocks 1, 2, 3, 4, and 9) totaling 193,200 square km (one-third the size of Texas) in northern Mali and two permits (Blocks Ta11 and Ta12, approved in 2007 by the Mauritanian government) covering approximately 60,000 square kilometers were awarded to Baraka (the company changed its name to Baraka Energy and Resources Limited in 2011), a Perth-based company (OGJ 2004). The total area Baraka holds within the total basin is approximately 272,000 km2, a total of 8 blocks. The area extends from the Algerian border in the east across to the Mauritanian border to the west. Baraka has undertaken to spend $51 million across all five permits and $4.9 million in the two Mauritanian permits. They hoped to begin exploitation in 2011 to 2014, and sold 50% of their rights to Eni and 25% to Sonatrach in 2006 (Reuters 2013). However, in 2013, just before the French military intervention in Mali, Eni gave up their exploration rights.
Sonatrach (Algeria): In 2009, Sonatrach completed promising seismic tests in the basin, and Algeria’s national oil company promised to invest more than $11.5 million in the Taoudeni basin between 2013 and 2017. However, insecurity in the region due to multiple activities including those of Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) caused them to cease operations in January 2013. The company resold Block 4 in the Basin to the Government of Mali due to continuing insecurity, and at the end of August 2013, Czech company New Catalyst committed to invest 51.7 million euros (57.7 million dollars) to begin prospecting in the Taoudeni Basin, Block 4. In October 2014, Sonatrach declared that it would return operations to Mali after the signing of the peace accords (in 2015) for the civil war brewing in northern Mali. They have yet to return.
Heritage Oil (Canada): Beginning June 2005, Heritage oil has been awarded Blocks 7 and 11 in Mali’s Taoudeni Basin in partnership with Mali Oil Developments SARL, a subsidiary of Centric Energy. The two licenses cover an area of approximately 72,000 square kilometers in the Gao Graben. Heritage has the right to earn 75% working interest in each of the blocks. A two-year extension has been awarded in January 2009 so that the group may continue with seismic acquisition and reporting to determine drilling areas (centricenergy.com).
Circle Oil PLC (Ireland): Also in August 2013, Circle Oil PLC promised nearly 7.7 million euros (8.6 million dollars) to explore in the remaining areas of the Taoudeni, Blocks 21 and 28.
Raven Resource Group (UAE): On August 19, 2013, Raven Resource Group obtained an exploration license in the basin for Block 6, in Mali through its subsidiary Corvus Resources Management Limited. It will invest $50 million over a period of seven years. (prnewswire.com).
Other holdings: 1) Selier Energy, a Canadian company is interested in Block 18, with an area of 19,259 square kilometers in the Taoudeni Basin and has pledges $11.2 million for explorations. Sphere Investments Ltd., an Australian company is operating in Blocks 8 and 10. Markmore Group, a Malasian company has in the past applied for Blocks 5 and 6. Other players that have bought and sold holdings in Taoudeni include: Canadian oil and gas company Simba Energy (Block 3); Africa oil corporation, and Norweigan company Statoil.