Exploration permits granted to Repsol could be the start of a diplomatic problem between Morocco and Spain. The problem of oil exploration off the coast of Lanzarote y Fuerteventura is not new. It was revealed that the Defense Ministry warned in 2001 that the granting of permits to explore for oil off the coast of Lanzarote y Fuerteventura could disturb neighboring Morocco. In fact, back in 2002, the processing of an authorization requested by Repsol prompted the Government of Morocco
to start talks with the Spanish government in order to demarcate the respective waters.
The warning by the Ministry of Defense was part of the dossier sent by the Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism, José Manuel Soria to the Canary Islands to revive the authorization given to the oil company in December 2001. The courts suspended the authorization for three years due to the absence of environmental controls. The documents include the procedure for granting the permit, including reports issued by various government departments at the request of the Ministry of Economy, then led by Rodrigo Rato.
The Ministry of Defense revealed in May that year that, “The absence of a bilateral agreement with Morocco that defines the exclusive economic zones [200 miles] from both countries could lead to a dispute over the Moroccan claim that the equidistance line is fixed, not from the coast of Africa, but from the continental slope [subsoil which extends beyond the 12 mile territorial sea], so it would be closer to the coast of Lanzarote y Fuerteventura and cross a corner of the prospective areas."
In total, the area of exploration in which Repsol began operating in November 2000 consists of nine squares in a total of 616,060 hectares and is located about 50 miles from the coast the Canary Islands.
The complexity of defining the border with Morocco is huge and is also evident in the summary of the administrative record of the Directorate General for Energy Policy and Mines. It emphasizes that all phases of the process are to be performed in "coordination" with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that investigations under the seabed will be carried out within Spanish territorial waters.
Nevertheless, it is noted, the start of processing the permit requested by Repsol motivated "a verbal note of the Moroccan Government requesting the initiation of talks" to define the border. A month after the Governing Council approved the royal decree which allowed the oil exploration for six years with the Canary Islands, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry sent a protest note to the Spanish Embassy in Rabat.
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