ReconAfrica, a Canada- based oil and gas company, have received the right to drill for oil and gas inside the internationally recognized Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
The drilling license covers roughly 35000 square kilometers between Namibia and Botswana in the watershed of the world famous Okavango Delta which provides a livelihood for more than a million people in this arid region of southern Africa.
ReconAfrica’s license area stretches across the buffer zones of three Namibian National Parks, and although the Parks are excluded from drilling for now, there are seven community conservancies and forests that are included.
Namibia is famed for its Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) system which allows indigenous peoples and local communities to run wildlife conservancies and benefit from them. According to the environmental clearance certificate ReconAfrica is allowed to explore for oil and gas anywhere in the licensed area at any time, even on conservancy and forest land.
ReconAfrica’s initial goal, already approved by the Namibian government, is to drill three test wells two kilometers deep in Kavango East and West regions to determine the presence of exploitable oil and gas.
Experts have reviewed the Namibian environmental impact assessment for the test wells. They point to serious problems including lack of public participation processes in directly and indirectly affected communities, poorly executed desktop studies, and most importantly, a complete lack of environmental protections, including lack of a leakproof containment pond lining for the drilling and flowback waste at their first drill site. This is a legally required measure to avoid any likely contamination. The drill site is situated on the banks of the Omatako-Omuramba River, which is a tributary into the Kavango River and the Okavango Delta.
By letting drilling waste and potential oil flowback into their unlined reserve pit, the company appears to be breaking Namibia’s Petroleum Exploration and Production Act which states that the company must “control the flow and prevent the waste, escape or spilling” of petroleum, drilling fluid, water or any other substance from the well.
Meanwhile, approval for a drilling permit in the licensed area in Botswana is underway, although at a recent press conference the Botswana Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security stated that Botswana will never allow fracking of any kind inside their borders.
This could impact ReconAfrica’s drilling plans because most shale formations in the world had to be hydraulically fractured to release the maximum amount of fossil fuels once conventional exploitation had been exhausted.
The unique Kavango-Zambezi ecosystem brings in more than 3.4 million US dollars a year in tourism alone, but the company and the Namibian government claim that oil and gas development will bring more jobs, at the expense of this sustainable income. Their claims are refuted by the international governance site Governing, which says that the financial losers in fossil or natural gas extraction are local communities, as drillers and national governments take profits and leave communities poorer and less well off than before they arrived.
Ohio State University explains that oil and gas developments release highly dangerous gases into the air that can cause cancer, birth defects and other serious long term health issues. These gases build up in people over time, and even tiny amounts of exposure can cause cancer in exposed people and ecosystems, as well as future generations, local communities and the oil and gas workers themselves.
The Okavango region, where ReconAfrica has been given an exploration license for oil covering 33600 square kilometers (13200 square miles), feeds the world-famous Okavango Delta in Botswana with it’s life-giving waters.
The Okavango is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a Key Biodiversity Area, Important Bird Area, Ramsar Site and part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transboundary Conservation Area (KAZA). It comprises permanent marshlands and seasonally flooded plains and is one of the very few major inland delta systems in the world that do not empty into the ocean and it’s wetland system is largely intact.
One of the unique characteristics of the site is that the annual flooding from the Okavango River occurs during the dry season, with the result that the native plants and animals have synchronized their biological cycles with these seasonal rains and floods and people here rely upon them for their every need.
The area where ReconAfrica is already drilling in Namibia is home to more than 250 thousand people who make a living from the upper Okavango ecosystem through tourism, hunting, fishing and farming.
Downstream in Botswana the Okavango Delta itself supports more than a million people.
In Namibia’s Kavango East and West, where ReconAfrica is drilling right now, live different communities like the Herero, the Sān and the Kavango people (also known as vaKavango or haKavango). The Kavango are a Bantu ethnic group, of which roughly 80% reside along the Okavango River. The Kavango Regions of Namibia are named after these tribes, which comprise five kingdoms, the Kwangali, Mbunza, Shambyu, Gciriku and Mbukushu. The Kavango people’s lineage is matrilineal and they speak mainly RuKwangali, but the dialects of Shambyu, Gciriku and Mbukushu remain.
The communities are seriously concerned about ReconAfrica, a foreign company that has taken their lands and started to sell it off to foreign investors.
As communities of the Kavango River Basin we are not only custodians of these ancestral lands but have a deep connection to nature which includes all kinds of different plants and animals including pangolins, African wild dogs, baobab trees, fish and birds. We are of the land and the spirits of our ancestors are tied to this land. Oil and gas drilling or any industrialization of our home will bring nothing but damage and destruction. We have been living on this land and protecting all the life that it supports.
We harvest berries and tubers for food, we harvest our medicine from the land, we have deep ties to the trees, the birds, and all the animals that call this place home and we rely on tourism, farming and agroforestry.
If this drilling continues our land will be polluted, and so will our water. We have been experiencing increasing drought periods over the years. Our land is semi-arid and water is our lifeblood, precious and scarce. These are dire times. We’re in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis, compounded by a pandemic. Oil and gas drilling has no place in our land and will only put us in more danger and make it harder for us to be resilient to continued climate change.
We at SOUL ask the regional governments to implement a full moratorium on oil and gas development in this vital ecosystem and ask that they stand ready to assist in helping create new livelihoods and opportunities for our people based around sound environmental principles and long-term sustainability.
The time to transition away from fossil fuels is now.