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British government declares Western Sahara trade “legal” despite UN proposal rejection

British government declares Western Sahara trade “legal” despite UN proposal rejection

Dzair Tube | 10th May 2024

By Dr. Hana Saada

The British government’s declaration of trade activities in Western Sahara as “legal” has stirred controversy, particularly in light of a proposal to establish a United Nations council for monitoring natural resources in the disputed territory.

Following Algeria’s decision three years ago to halt the renewal of a gas pipeline contract supplying Spain through Moroccan territory, Morocco has been exploring alternatives to maintain its energy supply. This exploration has led to promising results, particularly in the search for gas in various areas of Morocco.

However, Moroccan authorities have strategically tied economic transactions, especially in the energy sector, to the Western Sahara conflict. Consequently, alongside the announcement that a British company has received approval from the Moroccan government to exploit gas fields in the northwest of the country, London affirmed the “legality” and “legitimacy” of commercial activities in Western Sahara.

According to a statement from British energy company SDX Energy, gas production has commenced at Well KSR-21 in the Western region near the city of Kenitra, located 36 kilometers from Rabat. Local sources confirm that this step follows successful drilling tests conducted by the company in January, connecting the well to existing infrastructure in preparation for production pending approval from the Moroccan government.

SDX Energy holds a 75% stake in its Moroccan portfolio, which includes exploration licenses, concessions, and gas wells, with the remaining 25% held by the Moroccan state-owned enterprise, the National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines. The British company has secured contracts to market gas to eight customers at contractual prices ranging from $10 to $12 per cubic foot.

The exploration licenses cover the Central Sebu area, the Western Center, the Moulay Bousselham West area, and the southern Lalla Mimouna area, in addition to several exploitation concessions containing productive wells.

Since 2017, SDX Energy has actively executed a drilling program in the Western basin, with the Moroccan government reporting a success rate exceeding 80% to date. These discoveries extend the company’s core production area northward, with estimated recoverable gas resources in these wells ranging between 2.2 and 2.8 billion cubic feet.

Despite these promising developments, observers have noted a paradox where instead of reducing the price of household gas cylinders, the Moroccan government hints at increasing their prices gradually by removing subsidies. In this regard, a satirical blogger wrote, “Every time natural gas is discovered in Morocco, the price of gas cylinders for citizens in Morocco increases.”

Meanwhile, active trade and economic exchanges between Rabat and Madrid are paralleled by active diplomatic efforts between the two countries to align positions.

The economic activity in Western Sahara was brought up in the British Parliament’s House of Commons after a question was raised by a Labour Party member. In response, the British government, led by Rishi Sunak, denied support for the establishment of a United Nations council for monitoring natural resources in the Sahara. They stated that they do not consider commercial activity in Western Sahara as illegal.

The British government’s stance has sparked debate, with critics arguing that it undermines efforts to resolve the Western Sahara conflict and violates international law.

 source: Dzair Tube