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Vanuatu (the Republic of Vanuatu), in the South Pacific Ocean, is a volcanic archipelago of 82 islands east of New Caledonia, south of the Solomon Islands, and west of Fiji in an area of 680,000 sq kms.

Melanesians migrated to Vanuatu around 3,500 years ago. In 1606 a Portuguese explorer landed on the islands, calling them The Southern Land of the Holy Spirit and claiming them for Spain. However, settlement was short-lived and Europeans did not return until in 1768.

In 1774 Captain Cook renamed the islands, the New Hebrides. Immigration increased in 1825 but was later reversed when planters in other islands of the South Pacific needed indentured labour. Meanwhile an influx of British and French missionaries and planters eventually led to claims on the islands.

In 1906 the UK and France agreed on joint management, calling them the British-French Condominium. Melanesians were barred from acquiring citizenship of either country.

In the 1940s the people began to demand self-rule. An independence movement arose in the 1970s and the islands gained independence in 1980 as Vanuatu.

A period of political instability in the 1990s led to a more decentralised government but the economy is healthy, based on agriculture, fishing, tourism and financial services.

Vanuatu consists of 82 small, young volcanic islands of which 65 are inhabited. Two of the islands (Matthew and Hunter) are also claimed and controlled by France as part of the French collectivity of New Caledonia.

The largest islands are Espiritu Santo, Malakula and Efate, where the capital is located. Most of the islands are rocky and steep with fringing reefs and no continental shelf so that they dip steeply directly onto oceanic basement. There are several active volcanoes on the islands and many underwater volcanoes.

The volcanoes lie along the collision boundary of the Pacific tectonic plate, subducting under the Indo-Australian plate. Subduction has created the Vanuatu trench with Vanuatu located in the fore-arc setting, east of the trench.

This geology is not suitable for the generation and accumulation of commercial volumes of oil and gas and Vanuatu has no indigenous oil or gas resources, either onshore or offshore. Globalshift believes it is very unlikely to achieve any production in the future. No exploration wells have ever been drilled in the country.


Map and National Flag


Volcanic plug



E and P


Oil and gas summary



Land area (sq kms)

Oil prod (000s b/d)

Gas prod (bcm/yr)

Oil cons (000s b/d)

Gas cons (bcm/yr)


Port Vila

0.24 mm






Brief history of the country

Vanuatu is a parliamentary democracy. The head of state is the President with primarily ceremonial powers who is elected by an electoral college for a 5-year term.

The electoral college consists of members of Parliament and the presidents of Regional Councils. The Prime Minister is the head of government, elected by Parliament, and appointing a Council of Ministers. Parliament is unicameral with 52 members.

There is no department of government in Vanuatu specifically responsible for oil and gas resources.

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