Extractivist policies governing the petroleum develop within coastal Mauritania are related primarily to the lessening of fiscal responsibility in the 1990s and the establishment of the coast as a primary oil site by the pioneer investor, Woodside Petroleum. In accordance with the mining code, foreign companies possess 90% holdings and have little tax responsibility. An ODI report recommends substantial changes to the country’s development plans, due especially to the fact that petroleum reserves could last from a decade to 30 years, which is a very short time period in comparison to long term coastal opportunities - eco-tourism, fishing, and other activities (Daniels et al 2016). Ecological concerns are thus echoed more by the non-governmental organizations operating in and out of the country than the government's Secretary of State for Ecological Affaires, which was created in 2006.
The following describes the multiple international companies that have been or are operating in the offshore areas of Mauritania.
Woodside Petroleum (Chinguetti Oil Field): The Chinguetti oilfield is the oldest offshore site, discovered by Australian Woodside Petroleum in 2001 at a planned investment amount of $600 million. It was originally estimated at 123 million barrels, and began with a production rate of 75,000 barrels per day in 2006. Production declined rapidly, leading Woodside to reduce the original estimates to 53 million barrels, and caused its sale to PETRONAS group. This may also be due to shifting contractual agreements with government regime change. See more about Petronas’ decisions about the oil exploitation below.
Chariot Oil and Gas (Block C-19): The Block C-19 sits just offshore from the protected area in the Gulf of Arguin. British company Chariot Oil and Gas Limited acquired the block in 2012 in order to perform a 3,500 square kilometer 3D seismic survey in Block C-19. Fugro-Geoteam AS will carry out the survey at depths of 30 to 2,000 meters over about 90 days, which began in November 2012. Chariot holds a 90% stake in the Block (Subsea 2012), with the State company holding the remaining 10%. In June 2016, Chariot announced that it has elected to not renew its exploration contract, preferring instead to expand into Moroccan offshore space. The stated reason was that they could not bring in a farm-out partner for drilling (Ashcroft 2016).
Total (Block C-9 and C-7): Slightly further offshore, Block C-9 also has potential to impact the Arguin. The French company signed an off-shore exploration contract in January 2012, for which it holds 90% ownership, with the national company SMH holding the remaining 10%. The block is 140 km’s offshore from Mauritania, covering an area of 10,000 square kilometers in depths ranging from 2500 to 3000 meters. Total has been involved in on-shore oil exploration through its partners Sipex and Qatar Petroleum International since 2005 in the Taoudeni Basin. On May 15, 2017, Total signed an exploration contract for the 7,300 square kilometer C-7 block. For this contract, Total will also be 90% owner, with the Societe Mauritanienne des Hydrocarbures et de Patrimoine Minier (SMHPM) owning 10%. This brings Total’s holdings for offshore exploration to 17,000 square kilometers (OGJ 2017).
Dana Petroleum (Block C-7, C-8 and C-1): Dana Petroleum owns three blocks covering 34,000 square kilometers as of 1999. Block C-7 concurrently sits just offshore from the Gulf. Dana Petroleum, a company of the Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC) drilled their first well Fregate-1 in 2014, but abandoned due to only minor hydrocarbon potential in the target area. The C-7 Block license was split between Dana Petroleum (43%), Tullow Petroleum (36.15%), GDF Suez Exploration (12.85%), and PC Mauritania (8%).
Petronas Carigali (Block 6): Malaysian company Petronas purchased rights to the Chinghetti offshore oil field from Woodside in 2007 for $418 million. Chinguetti is located in Deep Water Block 4 of PSC B, about 80 km’s west of the Mauritanian coastline. In Oct 2015, mixed reports were received about the company’s potential pull back its operations in Chinguetti, given the low oil prices, a Reuters report stated that these allegations were false and that Petronas would honor its commitments (2015). However, since 2017 began, it has already begun dismantling the offshore platform, and decommissioning was transferred to Barakah in June 2017 for $14.3 million (Wee 2017). Petronas had also observed a sharp decrease in production from 75,000 barrels per day to 6,000 bpd, contributing heavily to their decision (Tagba 2015). In Block 6, Petronas announced in 2008 that they will drill Khop-1 exploration well, approximately 70 km’s from the Mauritanian coast in 925 meters of water. Recoverable oil resources range from 100 MMBO to 1,000 MMBO (Energy-pedia 2008).
Kosmos Energy (Block C-6, C-8, C-12, and C-13): All of this Texas-based company’s holdings in Mauritania are contiguous and range in water depth from 1,000 to 3,000 meters, with a combined acreage of approximately 27,000 square kilometers. It acquired Block C-8 in 2012 with 28% holdings or 11,900 square kilometers. It also acquired Blocks C-12 and C-13 in 2012, at 28% holdings for each or 7,075 and 7,800 square kilometers, respectively. Cosmos has secured 28% pf Block C-6 (4,300 square kilometers) from Petronas in 2016 and has completed mapping adjacent Block C-12. Two wells (Tortue-1 and Ahmeyim-2 were drilled in the southern portion of C-8. Also, in the Marsouin-1 well, natural gas was discovered (also in Block 8). Based on a March 2016 communication from Kosmos (kosmosenergy.com 2016) Ahmeyim-2 as well as several other wells proved to have significant gas prospects for an area from 50 to 90 square kilometers. In early 2016, Kosmos entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Pétroles du Sénégal (Petrosen) and the Société Mauritanienne des Hydrocarbures et de Patrimoine Minier (SMHPM) which set out the principles that would govern an international cross-border resource cooperation. This area, called the Greater Tortue Complex has the potential of over 20 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in natural gas resources. According to British Petroleum, who bought 62% of Cosmos Energy’s holdings in June 2017, the first cubic meters of gas will be extracted in 2021. Profits from the international project are estimated at $14 billion USD, with 450 billion cubic meters, producing approximately 1500 jobs (Faujas 2016). The project is schedule to be completed and closed by 2050, for a total duration of approximately 30 years.
Tullow Oil (Block C-18, C-10 and C-3): Tullow Oil signed a contract of exploration for Block C-10 in 2012. In the first well drilling, hydrocarbons were detected, but located in sand deposits with water content that they did not feel could be commercially viable. A second well drilled was also a disappointment. On June 29, 2017, the exploration phase was amended and extended for block 10, which covers an area of about 8,025 square kilometers. On the C-10 Block, drilling costs are now estimated at $50 million. On June 28, 2017 (Offshore 2017), Tullow’s 600-sq km 3D survey in block C-18 was completed. The next phase will begin a 3D survey in Block C3 to cover the shallow water areas. Over the next two years, Tullow hopes to gather enough seismic data to determine if C-10 and C-3 will be viable for exploitation.
As these foreign companies complete their exploration and develop exploitation infrastructure, how will the biodiversity of the coast and the richness of the fishing industry be sustained for the benefit of the wider population? Will the petro dollars earned through these exploitation contracts produce the promised ‘Dubai’ infrastructure portrayed in government campaigns? To circumnavigate any potential ecological disasters, a World Bank report (2011) recommends that the Government of Mauritania put into place a mechanism to respond to oil spills and a national environmental protection agency to establish no-go areas outside of the National Park Banc D’Arguin. The government’s response remains to be seen.