by Rashid Nur, Hargeisa
Special to Garowe Online
A high-level delegation from UK-based oil company Asante Oil arrived in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland on August 20, where they were welcomed by Ministry of Water and Minerals officials at Hargeisa’s Egal International Airport.
The Norwegian delegation, which started an official five-day visit to Somaliland, was received at the airport by the Ministry’s Director-General, Mr. Ahmed Ibrahim Sultan.
Mr. Sultan briefly explained that the Asante Oil delegation came to finalize a work program with the Ministry and to complete outstanding details in the oil exploration agreement, which the Norwegian firm signed in May.
Asante Oil has been licensed by the Ministry to explore and extract natural gas and oil resources in blocks « SL13 » and « SL14, » according to Ministry documents.
The Norwegian delegation included Mr. Jarand Rystad (delegation head), Mr. Christian Eidem, Mr. Tor B. Lund and Mr. Mohamed I.Hassan, head of Asante Oil’s Somaliland office.
Mr. Rystad, the head of the delegation, explained to reporters during a Thursday joint press conference with Ministry officials at Maansoor Hotel in Hargeisa that Asante Oil is on its « final leg in preparations » to start its drilling operations by 2009, once acquisition of the seismic data taken by TGS-Nopec is finalized by the end of this year.
Asante Oil executives offered a brief overview of the company’s history, exploration plans, drilling program and highlighted costs already spent on their Somaliland acquisition amounting to « millions of dollars. »
According to Asante Oil officials, the Norwegian firm’s agreement with the Somaliland government did not include « signature bonus fees. »
Instead, Asante Oil representatives » guaranteed » to carry out social development programs in connection with the Agreement, in which Asante Oil will provide one water-borehole rig and its maintenance for the people living in SL13 and SL14 regions.
Further, the Company’s senior officials pledged to provide vocational training in the oil industry for the employment of locals.
Mr. Qassim Sheikh Yusuf, Somaliland’s Water and Minerals Minister, indicated during Thursday’s press conference that the ‘Production Sharing Agreement’ signed with Asante Oil will go before the Council of Ministers and then the Somaliland Parliament for final approval in the « coming months. »
Somaliland, in Somalia’s northwestern regions, unilaterally declared independence in 1991 but has not been recognized internationally.
There are no proven oil reserves in Somalia, but Western majors who collected data in the 1980s found high potential for oil discovery.
Currently, Somaliland is locked in a political and violent border dispute with neighborhing Puntland, which contests ownership of Sool and Sanaag regions.