• Why is Oil Exploration Controversial in Namibia?

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Why is Oil Exploration Controversial in Namibia?

Jan 31 2021

A new exploratory drilling project in Africa has environmentalists concerned the delicate ecosystem of Namibia could be under threat. Spearheaded by Reconnaissance Energy Africa (Recon Africa), the project is taking place in the north of the country, a region crisscrossed with key interconnected watersheds such as the Okavango Delta. Conservationists warn oil and gas projects could compromise the health of the watersheds, with a potentially devastating impact on local wildlife and communities.

Protecting the KAZA

In late December, the company announced plans to start exploratory drilling in the Namibian zone of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). Recon Africa is currently in possession of a license that allows it to drill in 2.5 million hectares of northeastern Namibia, with a significant footprint located within the KAZA. In addition to the Namibian section, the company also holds a license to drill in a 1 million hectare area of the Botswanan KAZA.

The project has garnered fierce criticism from environmentalists, who say it threatens the unique ecosystem. As well as being home to one of the largest remaining populations of African elephants in the world, the KAZA conservation area protects endangered packs of African wild dogs. The exploration areas also encroach on the Okavango River Basin, which feeds the Okavango Delta UNESCO World Heritage site.

“There is a serious lack of knowledge on groundwater resources in the target oil and gas extraction area,” warns Surina Esterhuyse, a geohydrologist at the University of the Free State, South Africa. “In Botswana, the Okavango river basin is still relatively pristine, but the planned exploration and extraction could have serious impacts on the [Okavango] delta.”

Protecting the Kavango Basin

Recon Africa will start by drilling into the Kavango Basin, a 9000-metre-deep sedimentary basin that geologists suspect could be rich in oil and gas deposits. If the project is successful geochemists estimate it could hold similar quantities of oil and gas to the Eagle Ford Basin in Texas, where more than 20,000 wells have been drilled since exploration began in 2008.

“The possible impact that oil and gas extraction would have on the water resources in Namibia and Botswana is the biggest concern,” warns Esterhuyse, an expert in the impact of oil and gas extraction on groundwater resources.

While the Namibian government has only approved a handful of test wells, environmentalists say production could rapidly increase if not regulated properly. Further activity will require independent environmental impact assessments, though opponents say these can be surprisingly easy to obtain.

Local communities voice concern

Local communities are voicing concerns over the projects, though are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of response from the Namibian government and Recon Africa. “The local community are in darkness, they don’t have clues on what is going on,” says Max Muyemburuko, chairperson of African wildlife conservation group, Muduva Nyangana Conservancy. “They want their voices to be heard. Kavango is the only land that we have. We will keep it for the generation to come.”

As well as the pollution of natural water sources, the oil and gas industry must also remain vigilant about monitoring wastewater. Find out more in ‘Gas detection with networked communications for safety and process automation in refinery wastewater treatment applications.'


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