Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sudan and South Sudan battle over disputed oilfields

Sudan and South Sudan are close to war along their disputed border, with multiple clashes around vital oil fields and an escalation in troop build-ups.
The tension has been rising for several months, particularly since South Sudan shut down oil production, protesting alleged theft of its crude exports from the pipeline through Sudan. Since then Khartoum, which is heavily dependent on oil export revenues, has sought to increase the pressure on its breakaway southern neighbour to restart production or lose the wells by force.

Most of the oil fields are located in border regions such as Unity state, where the boundary between Sudan and South Sudan was never fully demarcated after the south declared independence last July. Khartoum insists that some of the oil fields are in northern territory, whilst the south – which is almost wholly reliant on oil revenues for its budget – is adamant that it will not cede any territory.

The recent upsurge in fighting began on around 26 March. Details are sparse given the remoteness of the border and the poor communications, but Juba insists that Sudanese warplanes began bombing oil-producing areas in Unity state, before clashes broke out between the armies of both sides.

During the fighting, South Sudan alleges, northern forces temporarily captured oil facilities in the Heglig region, which is claimed by both sides. The facilities at Heglig and in the area struck by air attacks are operated by China’s CNODC. Khartoum claims that the violence came in response to attacks by South Sudanese forces. It insists that its troops are in control of the Heglig field.

The African Union and the UN have called on both sides to pull back their forces from the border and return to the negotiating table to discuss key issues including oil revenues and border demarcation. Neither side has shown much willingness to start a fully-fledged war, but the clashes have stalled their diplomatic discussions. A summit on 3 April, in which Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was due to travel to Juba, has been cancelled.

Sources: BBC, Voice of America, Reuters

Monday, 26 March 2012

Ethiopia and Eritrea trade accusations over border clash

Ethiopia and Eritrea are continuing to blame each other for a recent border clash which raised concerns of a resumption of conflict in the Horn of Africa.
The violence occurred on 15 March, when Ethiopian troops crossed the disputed boundary and attacked three Eritrean military bases around 18km inside Eritrean territory. The Ethiopian military said that the attack occurred because of Eritrea's support for “subversive groups”. Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal claimed that the incursion did not represent a direct military confrontation.
Eritrea responded by claiming that the attack was intended to distract attention from the countries' ongoing border dispute. The boundary has been undefined ever since their war between 1998 and 2000, which left 70,000 dead without resolving the border. The village of Badme, which was the cause of the war, remains under Ethiopian control despite being awarded to Eritrea by an international tribunal.
The two states remain at loggerheads over the border as well as the situation in Somalia, where they support different sides in the country's civil war. However Eritrea has said that it will not retaliate for the latest incursion, saying that it did not want another war (analysts believe that Eritrea lacks the military capabilities to stand up to Ethiopia).
Asmara has also accused the US of being behind the incursion, a common charge in the region. The US denied the charge.
The latest raid is not an isolated incident. The last few months have seen repeated clashes and border skirmishes, in which several have been killed and some Ethiopians allegedly abducted by Eritrean forces.
Sources: BBC, Guardian

Friday, 23 March 2012

Romania and Bulgaria in Black Sea territorial dispute

Amid a surge of interest in Black Sea oil and gas resources, Romania has highlighted a border dispute on its Black Sea boundary with Bulgaria.
Romania's Foreign Minister Cristian Diaconescu said on 21 Marchthat “a disputed territory exists between Bulgaria and Romania that is of seventeen kilometers in the Black sea waters”. The two neighbours have been seeking to delimit their maritime borders for two decades: Diaconescu said that the lack of a formal agreement has not prevented the development of friendly relations between them, so the disputed area should be settled as soon as possible to prevent it becoming a problem.
The dispute has resurfaced due to the recent discovery of significant gas resources by ExxonMobil and Petrom (in which OMV holds a 51% stake) off the Romanian coast. In February the two partners announced that an exploration well at the Neptun block had struck an extremely attractive prospect, which contains up to 100 billion cubic metres of natural gas, and which may be surrounded by other attractive areas.
Bucharest has sought to reassure its neighbour, as well as the EU and international companies, that the dispute is not a major issue and is not yet at the stage of arbitration. Diaconescu said that the two sides would hold high-level talks and try to settle the matter amicably, although reports have also said that Romania will consider taking the dispute to the International Court of Justice if necessary.
Romania is keen to settle the issue in order to remove any uncertainty over its ownership of the exploration block in question. Substantial gas supplies would be a major boost for its economy and its political position within the EU.
Sources: Oil and Gas Eurasia, BusinessWeek, Novinite

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Turkey to begin drilling off northern Cyprus

Turkey's TPAO has said that it will begin drilling off the coast of Turkish Cyprus “within days”, raising the stakes in the eastern Mediterranean energy game.

The chairman and president of the Turkish state energy company Mehmet Uysaltold Reuters that TPAO had started moving equipment there and would start shortly. Echoing the Turkish government's line, he also said that he would “take all measures” to protect the drilling if it took place in an area disputed by the Republic of Cyprus.
The company has not formally announced the location of its first drilling operations. The areas under contract between TPAO and the Turkish Cypriots cover a major area around the island, including areas to the south of the island which are within commonly accepted Greek Cypriot borders. For its first round of exploratory work, TPAO is unlikely to deploy anywhere too risky or controversial, and is likely to work off the northern coast.
However the company is undoubtedly serious when it says that “all measures” will be taken to defend its operations. The Turkish government has repeatedly expressed its willingness to deploy naval assets in its dispute with the Republic of Cyprus. When seismic vessels began exploring the area last year, in response to Cyprus's decision to allow Noble Energy to prospect for gas and oil, Turkish warships were reportedly shadowing the research ships.
The tensions between Israel and Cyprus on the one hand and Turkish Cyprus and Turkey on the other, have increased lately. Recently it was announced that Israel may be planning a military base in Cyprus; a Turkish minister also provoked controversy by suggesting that Turkey should annex northern Cyprus.
If TPAO strikes it lucky off the Cypriot coast these tensions are likely to increase further. Although it is likely that the company will restrict its activities to waters off Cyprus's north coast, there is no guarantee that the situation will not change in future.
Sources: Rigzone, Reuters, TPAO

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Bangladesh hoping to offer disputed offshore blocks

The government of Bangladesh is hoping to offer a number of gas and oil blocks in April after a UN tribunal rules on its maritime border dispute with Myanmar later this month.

The head of the national energy company Petrobangla's PSC department, Muhammah Imaduddin, said on 7 March that “We are planning to offer at least two to three deepwater gas blocks in the planned April bidding round if Bangladesh gets legitimate right over the deepwater blocks”.

The tribunal is set to issue its ruling on 14 March; the relevant lawsuit was filed by Dhaka in late 2010 after a naval flotilla from Myanmar entered Bangladesh's waters to explore for resources.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Bangladesh is claiming an area ranging from 390 to 460 nautical miles southward from its coastline. Dhaka remains in talks with India over a separate maritime boundary issue. The disputes with its neighbours have hindered exploration of oil and gas reserves, which are desperately needed to tackle the country's energy shortages. In 2009 Tullow halted work in its two offshore blocks due to the maritime border dispute.

The government has expressed its determination to defend itself. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said that “we will not stop from taking the legal route to achieve legitimate demands from our neighbours”.

The deepwater offshore gas blocks, located in the Bay of Bengal, may be highly productive. Bangladesh is banking on the tribunal ruling in its favour, and so avoiding a further – and increasingly political – stand-off with Myanmar.

Sources: Platts, Financial Express Bangladesh

Monday, 5 March 2012

Sudan border tensions reach boiling point

The confrontation between Sudan and South Sudan along their disputed border seems to be reaching a boiling point, with dozens killed in fighting and accusations that Sudanese jets have bombed targets within South Sudanese territory.

Tension has risen steadily over the past month, as rebels with links to the South Sudanese government have attacked towns on the Sudanese side of the border and Khartoum has responded by launching raids along the disputed boundary region.

At the end of February Sudanese rebels claimed to have killed 150 government troops in a border battle, prompting the Sudanese government to threaten retaliation against Juba for its alleged involvement. Although South Sudan denies supporting the Sudan People's Liberation Movement North, it is widely seen as a convenient proxy for Juba.

On 2 March, the South Sudanese government accused its northern neighbour of massing troops along the border and also said that some Sudanese military units had penetrated as far as 10 miles into South Sudan's oil-producing Unity state. Airstrikes against oil facilities were also reported.

The rise in violence suggests that attempts to demarcate the border, which were agreed last month, will come to nothing. Even the proposed demarcation process would exclude five disputed areas, underlining the distance between the two sides on the issue.

Control of oil-producing areas is one of the most contentious issues – almost all production is located in what is now South Sudan, although the export infrastructure is located in the north. Disputes over revenue-sharing have led Juba to shut down production, crippling its own oil-dependent economy but also seriously damaging northern Sudan.

The recent rise in border tension suggests that Khartoum is testing to see whether it could seize oilfields by force without provoking an international crisis.

Sources: Sudan Tribune, AFP