Interesting how oil dictates geopolitical relations. Governments and corporations are obssessed with finding and then pumping oil. Seemingly unimportant areas of the world that were once regarded as no more than boondock hinterlands, become the life of the party when oil is discovered under them. Such is the case with the Falkland Islands.
The Falkland Islands ( Spanish: Islas Malvinas) are an archipelago located in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. The principal islands are about 310 miles (500 kilometres) east of the Patagonian coast at a latitude of about 52°S. The archipelago which has an area of 4,700 square miles (12,173 square kilometres) comprises East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 smaller islands. The islands, a British Overseas Territory, enjoy a large degree of internal self-government, with the United Kingdom guaranteeing good government and taking responsibility for their defence and foreign affairs. The capital is Stanley on East Falkland.
Controversy exists over the Falklands’ original discovery and subsequent colonisation by Europeans. At various times there have been French, British, Spanish, and Argentine settlements. Britain re-established its rule in 1833, though the islands continue to be claimed by Argentina. In 1982, following Argentina’s invasion of the islands, the two-month-long undeclared Falklands War between both countries resulted in the surrender of all Argentine forces and the return of the islands to British administration.
The population, estimated at 2,841, primarily consists of native Falkland Islanders, the vast majority being of British descent. Other ethnicities include French, Gibraltarian, and Scandinavian. Immigration from the United Kingdom, Saint Helena, and Chile has reversed a former population decline. The predominant and official language is English. Under the British Nationality Act of 1983, Falkland Islanders are legally British citizens.
On 2 April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and other British territories in the South Atlantic. By exploiting the long-standing feelings of Argentines towards the islands, the nation’s ruling military junta sought to divert public attention from Argentina’s poor economic performance and growing internal opposition. The United Kingdom’s reduction of military capacity in the South Atlantic is considered to have encouraged the invasion.
The United Kingdom sent an expeditionary force to retake the islands. After short but fierce naval and air battles, the British forces landed at San Carlos Water on 21 May, and a land campaign followed leading to the British taking the high ground surrounding Stanley on 11 June. The Argentine forces surrendered on 14 June 1982. The war resulted in the deaths of 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors and airmen, as well as 3 civilian Falklanders.
The United Kingdom and Argentina both claim responsibility for the Falkland Islands. The UK bases its position on continuous administration of the islands since 1833 (apart from 1982) and the islanders having a “right to self determination, including their right to remain British if that is their wish”. Argentina posits that it gained the Falkland Islands from Spain, upon becoming independent from it in 1816, and that the UK illegally occupied them in 1833.
Diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina, which were severed at the outbreak of the Falklands War in 1982, were re-established in 1990. In 2007, Argentina reasserted its claim over the Falkland Islands, asking for the UK to resume talks on sovereignty. In 2009, British prime minister Gordon Brown met with Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and declared that there would be no talks over the future sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. As far as the United Kingdom and the Falkland Islands are concerned, no pending issue to resolve exists.
Argentina seems to have gotten very interested in the Islands again since the discovery of oil reserves offshore near the Islands.
A 1995 agreement between the UK and Argentina had set the terms for exploitation of offshore resources including oil reserves as geological surveys had shown there might be up to 60 billion barrels (9.5 billion cubic metres) of oil under the seabed surrounding the islands. However, in 2007 Argentina unilaterally withdrew from the agreement; Falklands Oil and Gas Limited then signed an agreement with BHP Billiton to investigate the potential exploitation of oil reserves. Due to the difficult climatic conditions of the southern seas exploitation will be difficult, though economically viable; the continuing sovereignty dispute with Argentina is also hampering progress.
Falkland Islands Economic Zone
In February 2010 exploratory drilling for oil was begun by Desire Petroleum, but the results from the first test well were disappointing. Two months later, on 6 May 2010, Rockhopper Exploration announced that “it may have struck oil”. Subsequent tests showed it to be a commercially viable find; an appraisal project was launched and on 14 September 2011.