Falklands, Malvinas, Oil

That ol’ timey empire dies hard, then oil arrives to reinvigorate the corpse, it’s Carbon Zombie Imperialism!

It does not look like much: a jumble of pipes, containers and drilling equipment sitting on a windswept jetty at Port Stanley. The hardware, however, signals an imminent search for oil and gas that could turn the Falkland Islanders into south Atlantic oil barons, a prospect that has already triggered a dispute between Britain and Argentina.

A rig, the Ocean Guardian, is due to arrive by mid-February and will almost immediately begin drilling for hydrocarbon deposits 100 miles north of the archipelago. Geological surveys suggest there could be up to 60bn barrels beneath the seabed around the British territory, a bonanza that would transform islands famed for sheep, fish and remoteness.

“The rig won’t come into sight of Port Stanley unfortunately, it’ll be out too far,” said Phyll Rendell, the islands’ director of mineral resources. “But everyone knows it’s coming.” A British company, Desire Petroleum, has hired the rig to drill prospects in the North Falkland basin and will later lease it to three other British companies – Rockhopper, BHP Billiton and Falklands Oil and Gas – which also have exploration contracts. They will use the rig in rotation throughout 2010. It will be the first drilling in Falkland waters since Shell suspended exploration in 1998 after oil prices slumped to $12 a barrel.

“With the rise in oil prices and the worldwide search for new oil and gas services, it has now become more than commercially viable for this work to begin,” said Ben Romney, a Desire Petroleum spokesman. “We should know by the end of the year whether or not a major extraction programme will go ahead.”

Argentina is not waiting that long to voice its anger. It lost the 1982 war with Britain over the islands, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, but still claims sovereignty and terms British control an occupation.

“What they are doing is illegitimate,” said Jorge Taiana, the foreign minister. “It’s a violation of our sovereignty. We will do everything possible to defend and preserve our rights.”

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