UK-based company Zebra Data Sciences has expressed interest in exploring for oil in the Maldives after a recent study confirmed the presence of oil and gas in the country.
Fisheries minister Dr Mohamed Shainee held a press conference at the president’s office with officials from the company yesterday amidst skepticism over the possibility of extracting oil and opposition to the policy on environmental grounds.
Shainee said officials from Zebra Data Services met with the cabinet’s economic and youth council and proposed conducting an oil exploration survey.
“They want to sign [an agreement] around September and go forward. But for the sake of transparency and because we have proposals from two parties, we can’t go ahead without considering [the proposals],” he said.
The government expects to sign an agreement by the end of the year, Shainee said, adding that environmental concerns will be taken into consideration in choosing a company to drill for oil.
An official from Zebra Data Services told the press that the government will not have to bear any costs as the company proposed undertaking the survey at its “own financial risk, as this is just an exploration process.”
The environmental impact of the survey would be minimal, the official said, and the company was optimistic about the prospect of discovering oil.
“Maldives has the potential. But at this stage there is no guarantee. Finding oil is a very lengthy process,” he said.
Zebra Data Services has more than 30 years of experience in the oil industry.
Shainee revealed earlier this month that a geological survey carried out by a team of scientists at the University of Hamburg confirmed the presence of oil and gas, but it remained unclear whether fossil fuel extraction is economically feasible. The study – which has not been made public – shows locations where gas seeps to the surface, and further studies will be required to assess the volume of reserves.
Oil exploration is a campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen and is among five mega projects envisioned by the current administration.
Some 20 NGOs in February urged President Yameen to stop plans for oil exploration in Maldivian waters. The venture will risk the country’s economic and environmental health, they said.
Local environmental groups opposed to the move say exploring for fossil fuels is hypocritical, as the Maldives is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world.
The Maldives is the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of member states that advocates against climate change. The AOSIS advocates for a global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.