Total contests White Nile claim in Sudan

July 22, 2005
Total SA is contesting a claim to an oil license in South Sudan by White Nile Ltd. of the UK.

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, July 22 -- Total SA is contesting a claim to an oil license in South Sudan by White Nile Ltd. of the UK.

A spokesman said the French company has hired a British lawyer to defend a license it received to the acreage from the central government.

White Nile recently let a contract for seismic work on the disputed Block Ba, which it says was granted by the autonomous South Sudanese government (OGJ, July 18, 2005, Newsletter).

Block Ba is part of Block B, which Sudan granted in 1980 to a consortium of Total, operator, Marathon Oil Corp., Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co., and Sudan's state-owned Sudapet.

"Block B partners reserve all their rights and all possible actions against White Nile pretensions," Jean-François Lassalle, Total E&P vice-president for public affairs told OGJ Online.

Lasalle said a January 2005 comprehensive peace agreement signed between the government in Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) stipulates that all contracts signed before that date remain in force.

"Total's contract was originally signed in 1980, and since then Total's rights have been regularly confirmed by the government in Khartoum," Lasalle said.

A Sudanese government spokesman on Feb. 21 said, "The energy and mining ministry is the only body authorized to grant oil exploration contracts in the Sudan, and we have not done so [for White Nile]."

The Sudanese spokesman said the Khartoum government alone had the power to grant oil concessions (OGJ, Feb. 28, 2005, p. 34).

Lasalle said Total had updated its exploration and production-sharing agreement with the Khartoum government on Dec. 21, 2004. He confirmed that Total "is expected to resume operations on site when peace is restored in the area."

Meanwhile, another Total spokesman advised OGJ Online that the Paris-based firm has asked a leading British law firm to provide an independent legal assessment of its claim.

Contact Eric Watkins at [email protected].