Kenya has continued oil and gas exploration activities in a disputed part of the Indian Ocean after rejecting an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that awarded half of the offshore area to neighbouring Somalia.
Italian firm Eni started drilling the Mlima 1 deepwater exploration well in block L11B in the Lamu basin last month. The block is located within a 100,000km² triangle of the Indian Ocean that is believed to be rich in oil and gas and has long been contested by Kenya and Somalia.
Kenya maintains that the maritime border runs due east from where the two countries meet at the coast, whereas Somalia argues that it should follow on in the same direction as their land border. In 2019 Kenya accused Somalia of auctioning exploration rights in the contested region, leading to Nairobi recalling its ambassador to Mogadishu.
In October last year, judges at the UN’s ICJ ruled largely in Somalia’s favour, drawing a new line that splits the disputed area into two. But Kenya has refused to recognise the ICJ’s ruling and, as such, there is no reason for Eni to relinquish the block, according to Kenyan petroleum commissioner Martin Heya.
“We hope to make an announcement about a new oil discovery from Lamu in the next 2-3 months,” Heya told Argus.
Eni declined to elaborate. “We can only confirm that the well has been spudded, no further info is available at the moment,” the firm said.
Kenya started mapping for oil and gas deposits in the disputed area in April last year despite the pending case at the ICJ. Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta has since said the country will not cede an inch of the disputed area.
The offshore exploration activity comes as Kenya prepares to develop onshore crude reserves in the South Lokichar basin. The government expects London-listed independent Tullow Oil and its partners to take a final investment decision on the South Lokichar project before the middle of this year, paving the way for first oil in late 2023 or early 2024.