Do not bid on this ONHYM tender

All due diligence alarm bells should ring before any company considers bidding for a Moroccan tender inviting for evaluation of the petroleum potential offshore occupied Western Sahara. 

25 April 2022

The Moroccan government has issued a tender for the "Geochemical modeling and play fairway analysis on the Moroccan Atlantic Margin from Tangier to Lagouira".

No mention is made that a large portion of the study will take place outside of Morocco's internationally recognised borders, in the waters off occupied Western Sahara. 

The territory's coastline has been under foreign and illegal occupation by Morocco since the 1970s.

The tender consists of a desk study, in which the likely areas that could potentially host petroleum systems will be evaluated and mapped. Deadline to submit is 19 May 2022, and the work is to be completed during a period of 18 months. 

The purpose of such a study is to establish a ranking of the zones according to their prospectivity. The study will summarise the data from wells that have been drilled so far, interpret collected seismic data, and produce maps that illustrate the different geological zones and possible reservoirs. The work will be done by the contracted company from the ONHYM offices in Rabat.

The zones under study in the new ONHYM tender. Several of the zones are located outside of Morocco's internationally recognised borders, offshore occupied Western Sahara.The above map is not in accordance with the UN. 

From the documents published by ONHYM, one company has seemingly showed an interest in the work, by submitting a question to the tender stating - in English: “Our company expertise comprises the geochemical interpretation and petroleum systems modelling-analysis part of the work, but not the seismic interpretation and seismic attributes. We are assuming that ONHYM accepts proposals involving the collaboration of 2 or more companies, but could you please confirm thus to us?”.

The identity of the company that submitted the question is not known.

The most recent seismic study undertaken in Western Sahara was a Russian-Chinese-UK operation in 2018. The only drilling operation ever undertaken in the waters adjacent to the occupied territory - by Kosmos Energy and Cairn Energy - led to widespread condemnation and divestment by owners. 

"Western Sahara Resource Watch calls on all companies to not engage in any assessment of the petroleum potential in Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict has been found. Any oil exploration in Western Sahara taking place in violation of the wishes and the rights of the Saharawis, will only lead to a further entrenchment of the Moroccan position, and will undermine the talks for a solution to the conflict. Companies planning to take part in the plunder of Western Sahara's resources must consider the reputational cost", stated Erik Hagen of Western Sahara Resource Watch. 

Further exploration of the hydrocarbons are in violation of international law as long as the people of Western Sahara do not consent to it. This was the main conclusion of a 2002 legal opinion of the United Nation's Legal Office on behalf of the UN Security Council. 

Previously, a number of seismic services companies have been convinced by Morocco to take on assignments in Western Sahara, due to ONHYM's or the operators' failure to specify the real location of the blocks. Nearly all of the seismic survey companies that have worked in Western Sahara have since regretted their involvement: 

  • "We admit having done a mistake. It feels very uncomfortable having contributed in supporting an occupation power", CEO of SeaBird Exploration, 2015.
  • "I have no problem in stating, in retrospect, that it might have been a bad idea to take this assignment”, CEO of Spectrum ASA, 2011.
  • "The company is often involved in oil and gas exploitation in areas where the local population has not been consulted. For that reason, the company has for instance stopped its involvement in Western Sahara", Fugro NV, 2012 and its subsidiary Fugro-Geoteam "has decided to abstain from any further involvement in Western Sahara until the political situation has been resolved", 2010.
  • "TGS-NOPEC appreciates the complexity of the political issues in the area [...] As a result, the Company has decided not to undertake any new projects in Western Sahara without a change in political developments", Press release, 18.03.2003.

Other companies have been alerted in time, and specifically avoided taking on such assignments: "We have on several occasions previously refused to carry out seismic explorations in Western Sahara", PGS, 2009.

ONHYM in 2019 carried out a similar study from Tangier to Tarfaya (English, French). 

See also: 
The description of the tender [or download]
The rules of the tender [or download]
The tender letter [or download in French and Arabic]
ONHYM clarification letter [or download]. 

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