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Offshore petroleum threatens fishing livelihoods and marine biodiversity in Mauritania


Based on strong prospects for petroleum, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz campaigned for a ‘new’ Mauritania, depicted as a promising metropolis resembling Dubai (Choplain and Lombard 2009). In the same oil and gas rich coastline an abundance and highly biodiverse ecoregion provides a 500 million euro fishing industry to the country and much of its population. Such biological abundance would be greatly limited by widespread oil developments such as those that are taking place along the whole of Mauritania’s coast, even offshore from the country’s famous national park. Yet, the imagination of oil wealth masks the more stark realities of an economy that could become dependent upon its short term benefits, realities such as constantly shifting petroleum markets, clean-up of environmental hazards related to the industry, and social unrest as youth and workers’ expectations are not met by improvements in employment conditions and opportunities.  In a report by OilWatch from 2004, it was predicted that oil/gas development offshore in Mauritania would serve only to strengthen the government, and not the country’s infrastructure and development initiatives, a premonition that is slightly being revealed at the local scale. Despite numerous reports cautioning the government to slow its oil development, in 2015, Mauritania’s government made it easier for petroleum companies to obtain exploration – exploitation contracts by permitting the decision to be made by decree, as opposed to through a lengthy legislative process. Still, today, there are more than seven companies invested in exploring offshore petroleum deposits, but of these only a few have begun to extract the resources. Nonetheless, Mauritania’s coastal economic health is hinged upon this development (Faujas 2016; OilWatch 2005), one that tends to benefit only an elite segment of the population (Choplain and Lombard 2009). What remains to be seen is how if and when the government will address the potential for heavy ecological and social losses as a result of its non-protective mining policies.     Historically, Mauritania has moved out of colonization and into autocratic rule by a privileged elite. The first democratically elected president, Sidi Ould Cheik Abdallahi served for only 16 months (2007-2008) before he was ousted by a coup by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is the current president. The coup was met by fierce opposition by the Mauritanian populace andthe EU, who demanded that the military junta restore Abdallahi to power, while European countries pulled out aid programs. Abdallahi was perceived as the first and only democratic president, who refused to permit the country’s wealth to be squandered in the hands of foreign companies.  As a mark of integrity, when the oil revenues were not sufficient to pay the salaries of civil servants, Abdallahi took a 50% pay cut to his own salary (Augé 2007). According to the Courrier International, Abdallahi’s treatment of oil contracts heavily contributed to the putsch.    In recent years, civic unrest has dominated the political discourse in the country, during which the government under Aziz has ordered violent suppression of peaceful protesters on multiple occasions, especially those who disrupt the government’s development agenda. In 2012, mining companies engaged in violence against workers holding a labor meeting, leading to the death of one worker.  This propelled people to the streets in Nouakchott carrying a banner with the victim’s face and demanding an independent investigation into his death. The police responded initially by arresting the protest’s top organizers, but quickly released them when they saw the persistence and increasing unrest amongst the remaining protesters. In April 2017, the government responded to a peaceful protest by students vindicating the lack of work and opportunity through arbitrarily arresting and repressing the marchers.  In May 2017, protests rang out in Paris by the CMAF (Collectif des Mauritaniens de France) against the potential for discrimination based on skin color that was being manifested in Mauritania due to the development of a biometric identification card, which is part of the country’s fight against terrorism. The persistent marginalization of the black Mauritanian population leaves many without justice in the country, but provides a ready and affordable labor base to international companies.       The country’s coast possesses one of the most abundant fisheries on the planet with makerel, marlin, shrimp, sardines, barracuda and many other species providing for 50% of the country’s foreign currency earnings. In response to this rich ecology, Mauritania has followed suit with many other countries in the Sahel, stating that the means to protect the marine ecosystems are both unattainable due to financial constraints and also secondary to the short term economic gain (Magrin et al 2011). This is true also for the Parc National de Banc d’Arguin, one of the largest parks in West Africa at 12,000 square kilometers, covering Mauritania’s Atlantic coast and the Sahara Desert between Nouakchott and Nouadhibou.The indigenous Imraguens living along the coast have been on the frontlines of a changing ecosystem as fishing trawlers and oil development threaten to permanently alter the marine ecosystem that protects their livelihood.     Offshore oil and gas development puts into question the sustainability of the coastal livelihoods and the abundant fishery. Despite the presence of laws protecting the coast, the weakness or unwillingness of the Mauritanian state translates to less preparation in situations of urgency such as an accidental oil spill or leakage (World Bank 2011). There are few technical or institutional mechanisms in place to respond to and coordinate such a situation (Magrin et al. 2011).  Furthermore, the seismic technology being used to gather data on deep water oil reserves is destructive to both fish endocrine systems and the communication systems of marine mammals. Environmental organizations within and without Mauritania have written reports about the problems related to offshore oil development, including the Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Oil Watch, and the United Nations.   In 2014, the government revised the mining code, but did not account for the appeals of these multiple environmental justice groups. According to the 2014 Mining Code revision, mining contracts are given for a period of four months, which can be renewed only one time. A prospecting contract does not guarantee an exploitation contract, and the area must be lesser than 500 square kilometers. In 2006, Mauritania created a national fund from hydrocarbon revenue (FNRH), and they also adhere to the Initiative for Transparency in Extractive Industries (ITIE) (Waxma 2016). Nonetheless, the country’s elite capture of wealth from the petroleum offshore resources has provided further means to continue with a rent-based economy, which has not responded to the employment, environmental protection, and development wishes of the population (Magrin et al 2011). 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Offshore petroleum threatens fishing livelihoods and marine biodiversity in Mauritania
State or province:Dakhlet Nouadhibou
Location of conflict:Banc d'Arguin (Coastal National Park)
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
Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

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 ( 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.

Project area:10,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,068,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:79,516 (as of the year 2000)
Start of the conflict:01/01/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Woodside Energy from Australia
Chariot Oil and Gas Limited from United Kingdom
Total SA from France
Dana Petroleum from United Kingdom
PETRONAS from Malaysia
Kosmos Energy from United States of America
Tullow Oil Plc from United Kingdom
British Petroleum (BP) from United Kingdom
Société Mauritanienne des Hydrocarbures et de Patrimoine Minier (SMHPM) (SMHPM) from Mauritania
Relevant government actors:Government of Mauritania
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Oil Watch.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stageLATENT (no visible resistance)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local government/political parties
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Noise pollution
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Other Environmental impactsPotential threat to fisheries in the Bay of Arguin
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Proposal and development of alternatives:Several proposals of alternatives include:
1) A moratorium on further exploration and oil development to permit the population to develop laws protecting the environment, society, and coastal livelihoods
2) The conservation of biodiversity in the Banc d'Arguin and its surroundings in order to establish alternative livelihoods such as tourism and low impact fishing
3) In respect of the UN Climate Agreement, keeping the oil and gas reserves under the ground would permit both Mauritania and the countries represented by each multinational to respect this agreement and work towards a solution to climate change by not introducing new fossil fuels to the atmosphere.
(Oil Watch 2005 Report)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:There are many eyes on the offshore oil development in this region, but few of the voices of environmental groups are being heard. While it is an important case, the conflict and campaigns to protect the coastal fishery are still latent, as local actors are already preoccupied with other constraints on fishing (trawlers) and, as of yet there are not many visible floating oil rigs in the Atlantic. What is playing out are more general protests, which, due to the lack of political freedom in the country remain couched under a title of 'unemployment' and 'youth dissatisfaction.' This is a case to continue to observe.

Sources & Materials

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

2014 modification of 2008 mining law

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



OilWatch 2004 Report on Mauritania

Magrin et al. 2011, La Mauritanie et la mer : et si le pétrole aidait à mieux gérer l’insécurité écologique ?


(World Bank 2011) Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment of Oil and Gas Development in Mauritania

(IUCN 2004) Gestion environnementale de l'exploitation de pétrole offshore et du transport maritime pétrolier

(BBC 2001) West Africa's delicate fishing balance

Mauritania's Embassy website in Japan

(Tagba 2015) Mauritania: Malaysian Petronas quitting business

(Nomads 2015) Report: Mauritania

(Offshore 2017) Jubilee FPSO heading stabilized, further shift needed

(OGJ 2017) Total signs exploration contract for Mauritania’s C7 block

(Faujas 2016) Mauritanie : les investisseurs se tournent vers le pétrole et le gaz

Tullow taps another fruitless well in Mauritania

(Subsea 2012) Chariot to Acquire 3D Seismic Survey Offshore Mauritania

(Tuquoi 2008) Mauritanie : au pays des Imraguen

Ashcroft 2016) Chariot Oil & Gas exits Mauritania, expands in Morocco

(Offshore Energy 2013) Ministry Approves Farm-Out of Block C-19 (Mauritania)

(Energy-pedia 2008) Mauritania: Petronas group to begin exploration and appraisal drilling

(Wee 2017) Barakah Offshore picks up $14m Petronas decommissioning job

Mauritanie,ministère du pétrole : « les perspectives du gaz mauritanien sont plus que prometteuses »

IRIN 1999 Le pétrole, une catastrophe pour les populations ?

( 2016) Kosmos Energy Announces Successful Appraisal of Gas Discovery Offshore Mauritania and Senegal

(Coulibaly 2014) Fermeture de la mine d’Akjoujt en Mauritanie : à quoi joue la MCM ?

(Reuters 2015) Malaysia's Petronas says still operating in Mauritania

(NDARINFO 2017) Exploitation gaz offshore Sénégal-Mauritanie : Dakar a abrité hier une consultation publique sur l’impact environnemental

Meta information

Contributor:Julie L. Snorek, EJAtlas, [email protected]
Last update22/07/2017
Conflict ID:2876



Oil Exploitation Holdings all of Mauritania

The blocks represent the various holdings, some of which have not yet been exploited.

Offshore Oil Production and Marine protected area

(Magrin et al. 2011)

Illegal fishing in West Africa

Fishing In Mauritania

Christian Aslund

Fishing In Mauritania 3

Copyright: Christian Aslund

Fishing In Mauritania 2

Copyright: Christian Aslund

Map of Mauritania

Copyright: World Atlas

Tullow Holdings in Mauritania

Information provided on the company's website.

Exports from Mauritania

Based on data from 2016, gathered and presented by Jeune Afrique, this map shows all exports from the country for 2014 and 15

Kosmos Holdings

This map depicts the Greater Tortue Area, where Kosmos and BP are exploiting natural gas across the Senegal and Mauritanian borders

Companies exploring offshore Mauritania

This map depicts all the holdings offshore in Mauritania