Oil companies leery of rising disputes offshore Africa

Industry experts expect African maritime boundary disputes to rise dramatically, potentially curbing exploration and creating uncertainty in ownership over tens of billions of barrels of oil, according to Reuters.

Maritime boundary agreements have not kept pace as more oil companies have moved offshore into deeper waters, so African nations are struggling to enforce their sovereign rights under the 1982 Law of Sea treaty. Reuters says that, in the past four months, two matters involving Kenya and Somalia and, more recently, Ghana and Ivory Coast have been referred for arbitration, alarming oil companies, such as Tullow Oil, that have been inadvertently caught in the fallout.

With more than 13 million square kilometers of waters covered under the Law of the Sea off Africa, there are 100 maritime boundaries covered, with 32 agreed and 68 still up in the air.

From the Gulf of Guinea to the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Rift valley, Reuters says that boundary disputes are threatening to flare up, making oil companies cautious and governments bellicose. In the Great Lakes area, for example, where massive hydrocarbon finds in Lake Albert have caused unease and exploration in Lake Malawi has led to tension between Malawi and Tanzania, there are six areas of overlapping blocks that do not fall under any treaties.

Industry experts have noted willingness from investors, states, and industry to try to resolve these border issues. Some experts say that the notion of forming joint development areas is already working well in Africa, with an agreement between Guinea Bissau and Senegal seen as a successful case.

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