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Western Sahara has only a limited history of drilling and it has never achieved any production. Petroleum exploration activity began in the onshore Aaiun Basin in the early 1960s when the region was under Spanish jurisdiction.
The onshore area was divided into over 100 permits and by 1964 nearly 50 wells had been drilled by companies including Gulf Oil, Amoseas, Arco and Unocal. No discoveries were made although gas shows in Cretaceous clastic reservoirs were reported in several of the wells.
In the Tindouf Basin, a number of companies, including Phillips, were active, drilling around 15 wells between 1960 and 1967 with gas shows reported in two of these. The last onshore well in the country was drilled in 1973 prior to the departure of Spain.
Four dry offshore exploration wells had also been drilled between 1966 and 1970. After discoveries were made in Mauritania in 2001 both Morocco and the SADR signed deals with exploration companies. Total and Kerr-McGee began prospecting on behalf of the Moroccan state company (ONAREP). However, in 2002 the UN concluded that, although existing permits were not illegal, further contracts would be in violation of the principles of international law. Total pulled out in 2004 and Kerr-McGee left in 2006, pressured by NGOs and corporate groups.
Nearly a decade later in 2014 Seabird Exploration ran a seismic survey in Western Sahara’s deeper waters on behalf of Kosmos Energy who had held rights over the Cap Boujdour contract area since 2006 under a petroleum agreement with the Moroccan Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM). A deep water well was drilled in 2015 in the block and was reported to have had gas and condensate shows.
The Aaiun basin remains barely explored. Although the onshore part of the basin has only limited prospectivity, there exists potential for oil and gas fields offshore, particularly within deep water Cretaceous fan sediments analogous to those found elsewhere along the Atlantic passive margin. However, Globalshift believes that the questionable legality of exploration activity by foreign companies, related to the continued dispute between Morocco and the SADR, makes it unlikely that any production will materialise in the short and medium term.
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North and Northwest Africa