(GIN)—U.S. and U.K. oil explorers are making their moves on the Western Sahara, between Mauritania and Morocco, despite calls by thousands of climate justice activists worldwide to “keep the oil in the soil.”
Kosmos Energy, a U.S. oil and gas exploration firm, and Cairn Energy of the U.K., plan to use rights obtained in 2006 when Kosmos signed an agreement with Morocco’s state oil company. A drill ship is currently on its way from South Korea to begin the exploration.
The move outraged citizens of Western Sahara, a U.N. designated non-self-governing territory larger than the U.K. that was claimed by Morocco in 1975. A referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara has been on hold since 1991, when it was blocked by Morocco.
The Sahrawi Center for Media and Communication, an activist group of indigenous Sahrawi citizens of Western Sahara, in a letter to Kosmos’ senior VP William Hayes, condemned the drilling plans, calling them “illegal” for failing to obtain the consent of Western Saharans, “without them being consulted and benefiting from these business operations.”
Kosmos defended its actions by arguing that although it does not have the authorization of the Sahrawi, its activities will be beneficial to them.
“We believe that, if exploration is successful, responsible resource development in Western Sahara has the potential to create significant, long-term social and economic benefits for the people of the territory,” Kosmos wrote in a statement on the issue in February.
Meanwhile, U.K. oil barons Tullow and partners have discovered oil in the Turkana District of Kenya and on the coast. The World Bank has committed $50 million to the Kenyan government to provide technical assistance. By the company’s own admission, its fields cover one of the world’s most environmentally and culturally sensitive regions, where local employment among impoverished and isolated communities is a critical issue.
Last year, Tullow employed 100 permanent staff in Kenya, of which 70 percent were Kenyan nationals, but the company claimed to be employing more than 1,000. Most were subcontractors who receive less pay and less job security than full-time staff.
With basic literacy among the Turkana people at 7.2 percent, the majority of people in the district are excluded from training programs and from the few direct employment opportunities offered by oil drilling, according to Ikal Ang’elei, director of Friends of Lake Turkana, a local environmental organization.
As a result, the local people have largely been offered unskilled jobs, such as guards, sand mixers and cooks. Other opportunities, including transportation contracts, were snatched up by wealthy businessmen with the financial capital and political connections to supply vehicles for use.
At a conference this year of Oilwatch Africa, opponents of drilling urged African countries “to gradually phase out dependence on fossil fuels by exploring and adopting alternative renewable energy sources.”