Argentina is to protest to Britain over plans by UK companies for exploratory drilling around the Falkland Islands, due to start in about two months.

British sources confirmed that the Argentine foreign ministry had summoned officials to a meeting on Wednesday, though not at the level of ambassador. A source at the ministry said: “There will be a protest.”

The meeting comes after Rockhopper Exploration said it was ready to start drilling in waters around the disputed islands. Argentina, which does not recognise the exploration licences, calls the islands the Malvinas and maintains its claim to sovereignty in spite of losing a brief war between the two countries in 1982.

“The United Kingdom has no doubts about sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and the surrounding maritime areas,” a British Embassy spokesman in Buenos Aires said. “The Falkland Islands government is entitled to develop a hydrocarbons industry.”

Rockhopper says it will be ready to drill up to four wells in the North Falkland basin in two months, and could also participate in a further four wells planned by Desire Petroleum, another British company. That raises the prospect of an eight-well drilling programme in the area, which has long been rumoured to be rich in oil.

“We believe that our acreage is of low to medium risk in the global exploration setting with potential to find over 3.5bn barrels of recoverable oil using conservative parameters and that this should prove to be of considerable interest to the industry in the current environment,” Pierre Jungels, Rockhopper executive chairman, said in a statement.

Six wells were drilled in an area half the size of Texas in the North Falkland Basin in 1998 and five had flows of oil or gas. The Falkland Island government’s Department of Mineral Resources said “there are lots of better things to test”.

Other companies are also operating in the area. Desire Petroleum says it has 12 locations in the North Falkland Basin ready to drill and Argos Resources is also exploring in the same basin. In the East Falkland basin, Falklands Oil & Gas, which has a partnership with BHP Billiton, hopes to start drilling next year. Meanwhile, Borders & Southern is conducting seismic studies in the South Falkland Basin.

The islands’ political status remain highly sensitive. Argentina last year said it would bar any companies exploring for hydrocarbons there from doing business in Argentina.

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