Sierra Leone has ratified an agreement for Canadian-based Talisman Energy to explore for oil after the firm took over a majority stake in an offshore block, an energy official in the country said.
West Africa has enjoyed a surge in oil exploration since 2007 when Tullow Oil found the Jubilee field in Ghana, but it remains to be seen whether Sierra Leone, still recovering from a war that ended in 2002, has commercial quantities.
Raymond Kargbo, acting director general of the West African state's Petroleum Directorate, said Talisman would take over the rights to Block SL-4B-10 after the previous owner, Prontinal, failed to proceed with exploration.
"They did not meet all of their minimum work programme obligations," Kargbo said, citing lack of resources to carry out drilling.
Phoebe Buckland, a spokeswoman for Talisman, said the firm was taking an 80 percent stake as operator in the block, with Prontinal retaining 20 percent. Buckland did not give any further details on the deal and there was no answer to phone calls made to the number of a law firm given on Prontinal's web site.
In a briefing note on Sierra Leone earlier this year, Roddy Barclay, West Africa analyst at Control Risks, warned that "prospects for the country's oil sector remain uncertain."
"Although the government has stated its firm commitment to operating transparently and appears to be doing things by the book, clientilism, arbitrariness and corruption risk undermining the bidding process," he said.