US oil explorer Kosmos Energy is expecting results for its first well drilled in offshore Western Sahara in the first quarter of 2015, according to Brian Maxted, the company’s Chief Exploration Officer.

Speaking on a conference call on 3 November following the company’s financial results, Maxted called the Cap Boudjour basin a world-class exploration opportunity with the potential to be a “corporate game changer”.

Kosmos is preparing to start drilling at the Cap Boudjour area this month amid concerns over whether drilling in the disputed territory is legal under international law.

A UN legal opinion issued in 2002 states that exploitation of resources in the region would be illegal if an operator went ahead “in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara”.

Ahead of Kosmos’ drilling campaign, the Saharawi people, who live in the western part of the Sahara desert, have accused the oil company of failing to carry out proper consultations with local groups including the Polisario Front, an Algeria-backed indigenous Saharawi group that claims Morocco is illegally occupying Western Sahara.

The Polisario Front has been recognised by the UN as the representative of the people of Western Sahara and has been outlawed by the Moroccan government.

“Kosmos did not deal with Polisario and that is a big, big problem because the majority of the Saharawis in the occupied territories know the Polisario as the only representative of the Saharwais,” says Lakhal Mohamed Salem, a member of the executive board of the Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders.

In October, Saharawi human rights organisations sent an open letter to Kosmos Energy accusing the oil company of ignoring them and choosing instead to speak to individuals and groups appointed by the Moroccan government.

Kosmos has signalled that it wants to stay out of Western Sahara’s dispute over self-determination as much as possible.

“The conversation with groups that are talking about self-determination and independence isn’t a conversation for Kosmos to be involved with. That’s a conversation with the government of Morocco within the UN political process,” says Reg Manhas, senior vice-president of external affairs at Kosmos Energy.

“What we’re trying to do is create economic development in the region, which can proceed on a parallel path such that when there is a final… [decision] on self-determination and independence what we have done is contribute to the livelihood of the people on the ground.”

Kosmos acquired the licence for the Cap Boujdour area in 2011 and holds a 55 per cent participating interest in the concession, which covers 7.3 million acres.

The basin is the last undrilled Cretaceous basin along the Atlantic Margin.

Kosmos’ first well is expected to be drilled in about 2,050 metres of water to a planned total depth of about 6,500 metres.

The US oil company reported third quarter profits of $19.1m on 3 November, the equivalent of 5 cents per share.