BOUAKE, IVORY COAST —
West African neighbors Ghana and Ivory Coast aim to settle a long dispute over their maritime boundary, the Ivorian government said, which could defuse sometimes tense relations and smooth the way for oil and gas exploration.
The countries have never officially delineated that boundary, and their maps showing offshore waters currently overlap.
So far only Ghana has awarded acreage in the disputed area.
Oil exploration in Africa's Gulf of Guinea has accelerated since Ghana discovered its giant Jubilee oil and gas field in 2007 and brought it online in record time in late 2010.
The field is estimated to hold around 2 billion barrels of oil reserves and another 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Ivory Coast, meanwhile, drilled only a handful of offshore exploration wells during a decade-long political crisis that ended in 2011.
It now seeks to expand its oil and gas industry and asserts that some offshore areas claimed by Ghana lie within its territorial waters.
"The two heads of state ... have formally decided that the resolution of this dispute should be peaceful. The decision taken will be a consensual decision," Ivory Coast government spokesman Bruno Kone said on Tuesday.
"Ivory Coast has set up a commission to work on the subject ... So in June 2014, our two countries, Ghana and Ivory Coast, will be able to find a definitive solution to this dispute," he said, speaking after a cabinet meeting.
With the return of political stability, the economy of Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, grew 9.8 percent last year. But the government aims to diversify, given that cocoa accounts for 40 percent of exports.
Its potentially lucrative and largely undeveloped offshore blocks, meanwhile, have generated renewed interest as well.
France's Total announced in April it had discovered oil in the western part of CI-100, a block it acquired in 2010 that is adjacent to the disputed area with Ghana.
Total, along with partners Anadarko and Canada's CNR, plans to spend up to $300 million to drill exploration wells on three offshore blocks in waters off the western town of Sassandra.