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Kavango oil, Botswana-Namibia


Description:

“A Canadian company is drilling exploratory wells in Namibia for what could be a major oil and gas find. Local residents and conservationists fear the project could use up scarce water supplies and cause widespread ecological disruption downstream in the world-renowned Okavango Delta.” (2). Environmentalists are concerned that the oil development will affect aquifers and water balances in a biologically sensitive region near the Okavango Delta, one of the most famous wildlife conservancies in Africa They also fear that the development could damage traditional sites of the San, the Indigenous people in Namibia and Botswana.

This ia a sequel to so many other fossil fuels projects in Africa,  from the Karoo desert gas fracking, to the Cabo Delgado (Mozambique) LNG drama. In 2021 alarms have been risen because of imminent oil and gas drilling in the Okavango river delta, or rather in Namibia Kavango region and in the part of Botswana adjacent and upstream to the Okavango Delta. (Map 1, source (2) and ReconAfrica). 

ReconAfrica’s plans are located in the  regions of Kavango East and Kavango West which are home to 200,000 people — including the indigenous San — making a living from farming, fishing, and tourism. A network of rigs, pipelines, and roads would sprawl across an environmentally sensitive, semi-arid region that is home to Africa’s largest remaining population of savanna elephants as well as numerous threatened or endangered wildlife species. In addition, the drilling — which may involve hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — also would encompass or border national parks and wildlife conservancies, and could threaten waterways that local communities rely on and that eventually flow into the renowned Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.(2). UNESCO has raised the alarm.

Many Namibians, including environmentalists and some in government, were surprised when ReconAfrica shipped an exploratory drilling rig to Namibia in late 2020. Though some local traditional leaders say they were consulted, that information often did not filter down to other community leaders or into many Kavango communities. (2).

The Kavango Basin, which spans northeastern Namibia and northwestern Botswana, is part of the Kalahari Desert. In an otherwise dry environment, the Okavango River (known in Namibia as the Kavango) is a lifeline, flowing from the highlands of Angola, through northern Namibia, and emptying out into the Okavango Delta, in northwest Botswana. ReconAfrica’s license area is home to the Kavango five tribal groups who mostly make their living fishing, cattle herding, and farming pearl millet, maize, and sorghum. Alongside agriculture, tourism — including hunting — is one of the main industries, and locals are worried that extensive oil drilling could drive away wildlife — and visitors.

The Okavango Delta is an internal delta in the Kalahari Desert. The river flows from the  Angola’s highlands crossing the Namibia’s Caprivi strip, then it fans south into a patchwork of islands, lagoons, and grassy floodplains in Botswana’s northwest corner. But underneath there is oil. (1)

The public wants to know what the likely consequences would be of an oil find and the impacts to the Kavango regions and to the Okavango Basin. ReconAfrica refuses to discuss this.(2). There are also global climate change concerns of extracting, exporting and eventually burning the oil.  A key concern is the impact on the region’s water supplies. A major question is whether ReconAfrica plans to frack for oil and gas, a technology with a history of contaminating water and causing health issues. Given that water from the region flows into the Okavango delta, “any pollution would be harmful” to the Okavango Basin ecosystem as well as Kavango communities. 

"Namibia is a water-scarce country, and when news of the company’s project became widespread, communities expressed concern that contaminants from drilling would seep into shallow aquifers that supply drinking water and irrigation for crops. Conservationists also worry that contamination from the test drilling could affect wildlife in the vicinity—elephants, Temminck’s ground pangolins, African wild dogs, martial eagles—and in the UNESCO-recognized Okavango Delta some 160 miles downstream" (3) (Map 2). 

ReconAfrica has compared the geological conditions in the Kavango to the Karoo Basin in South Africa — an area where fracking has begun for natural gas — and the company seems confident it has found a very  major petroleum reserves, into the tens ofbillions of barrels of oil. ReconAfrica has a 90 percent stake in the Kavango development, the first of its kind in Namibia, while the Namibian government holds 10 percent.(2).

Environmentalists and community leaders want to see the area preserved. They have teamed up to raise awareness about the matter. A campaign called #SavetheOkavangoDelta was started by Fridays for Future Windhoek and Frack Free Namibia and Botswana, two local environmentalist groups.(5). A protest was organised in Windhoek, the capital, the week before the drill rig arrived in December 2020. Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, most other efforts have been organised online. An online petition appealing to the governments of Namibia and Botswana has garnered more than 150,000 signatures.(5).“Who gave the government the right to determine the destiny of Indigenous communities? This is just another case of environmental racism,” Ina-Maria Shikongo, the founder of Fridays for Future Windhoek, told Al Jazeera. “My worst fear is that it could turn into a new Niger Delta,” Shikongo added. (5)

 

 

 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Kavango oil, Botswana-Namibia
Country:Namibia
Location of conflict:Kavango provinces in Namibia, and the North-West region in Botswana
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific commodities:Crude oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Canada's ReconAfrica is a junior oil and gas company engaged in the exploration and development of oil and gas in Northeast Namibia and Northwest Botswana—the “Kavango Basin.” (Map 1). Possibly 12,000 million barrels of oil or more.

ReconAfrica holds a 90% interest in a petroleum exploration licence in northeast Namibia. The exploration license covers the entire Kavango sedimentary basin an area of approximately 25,341.33 sq km (6.3 million acres), and based on commercial success, it entitles ReconAfrica to obtain a 25 year production licence. The Kavango Basin offers a thick Permian sequence that we believe will supply a huge conventional oil play.

Also, ReconAfrica holds a 100% interest in a petroleum licence, northwest Botswana which comprises an area of approximately 8,990 sq km (2.2 million acres) and is contiguous to the Namibian licence. The two licences together comprise 34,325 sq km (8.5 million acres).

Source: https://reconafrica.com/operations/kavango-basin/

There are many concerns about local populations, wildlife, water contamination (wastewater pits from oilwells), potential gas flaring, pipelines and oil spills, as so often with oil exploitation. Water coming up the wells when drilling into oil and gas formations is saline, contains toxic organic and inorganic compounds, and naturally occurring radioactive materials.(3). In April 2021, "environmental groups (in Namibia) say the announcement is a move by ReconAfrica to wet the palette of investors. Right now, ReconAfrica is keeping its investors on the edge of their seats, whilst its enablers in the government feed off the desperation for employment and 'economic revival', the same economic woes they are largely responsible for. Whether or not the successful find is factual or merely a projection, the environment in the Kavango is in more danger than it ever was,” said Veruschka Dumeni of Friday's For Future Windhoek. (4).

Project area:3,432,500
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:200,000
Start of the conflict:2021
Company names or state enterprises:ReconAfrica from Canada
Relevant government actors:Government of Namibia
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Saving Okavango’s Unique Life, an alliance of Namibian and Southern African civil society organisations, activists and international groups.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Trade unions
Religious groups
The San
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Property damage/arson
Arguments for the rights of mother nature

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Potential: Air pollution, Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsPotential impact on elephant corridors (Map 2), the Okavango Delta and its wildlife.
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Preventive stage still in 2021, exploration has started, on well has been drilled.
Development of alternatives:"Keep oil in the soil". A moratorium for some decades at least or prohibition would avoid much local damage and also prevent very large emissions of CO2 globally (once the oil would be burnt).
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Plans by Canadian ReconAfrica are known, oil reserves are estimated at enormous amounts (from 12 billion to 120 billion barrels), reactions by indigenous local populations are mixed. Large potential impact on local water resources and wildlife. Climate change arguments used by some opponents.

Sources & Materials

(4) An official voice from the Namibia government. The Namibian. Alweendo excited over 'working petroleum system' in Kavango.| 2021-04-16, by Arlana Shikongo
https://www.namibian.com.na/100848/read/Alweendo-excited-over-working-petroleum-system-in-Kavango

(1) The New Yorker, 7 January 2021.
https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-a-warming-planet/our-best-chance-to-slow-global-warming-comes-in-the-next-nine-years

(3). National Geographic. Test drilling for oil in Namibia’s Okavango region poses toxic risk. The petroleum exploration company ReconAfrica doesn’t appear to have taken what experts say is a key step to prevent contamination of groundwater. ByJeffrey Barbee andLaurel Neme. March 12, 2021
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/test-drilling-oil-namibia-poses-water-risk

(2) A Big Oil Project in Africa Threatens Fragile Okavango Region

BY HEATHER RICHARDSON • APRIL 22, 2021. Yale Environment 360.
https://e360.yale.edu/features/a-big-oil-project-in-africa-threatens-the-fragile-okavango-region

The Independent. Oil excavation in Africa’s Kavango region must be stopped to meet world climate promises. The climate column: Oil play in the Kavango region of Namibia and Botswana will affect climate targets, endanger indigenous communities and could be disastrous for conservation. Donnachadh McCarthy. 01 April 2021
https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/opinion/oil-excavation-kavango-namibia-botswana-b1825483.html

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Canada's ReconAfrica shares plans for oil exploration in the Kavango.

21 Febr. 2021.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aie4WyOwoIU

(5)Namibia: ReconAfrica believes the Kavango Basin in Namibia and Botswana could generate billions of barrels of oil, but environmentalists and Indigenous leaders want the area to remain untouched. Lisa Ossenbrink, 22 April 2021. Aljazeera.
https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/4/22/namibia-indigenous-leaders-want-big-oil-out-of-kavango-basin

CNN, estimate of 12,000 million barrels of oil.
https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/video/exploracion-petrolera-namibia-empresa-canada-reconafrica-ultimo-yacimiento-pkg-cnn-dinero/

Good report by Sky News, 2021. Villagers in Namibia say big businesses searching for oil is damaging their way of life and their ancestral homes.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsdhisaClu8

Mail and Guardian. Pursuing fossil fuels in Kavango Basin a ‘stupid bet’. Sheree Bega. 26 Apr 2021
https://mg.co.za/environment/2021-04-26-pursuing-fossil-fuels-in-kavango-basin-a-stupid-bet/

Meta information

Contributor:JMA
Last update08/05/2021

Images

 

Map 1. ReconAfrica oil concessions in Namibia and Botswana. Source: https://reconafrica.com/operations/kavango-basin/

Map 2. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/test-drilling-oil-namibia-poses-water-risk. Map with elephant corridors and movements in the licensed region.

Source: Mail and Guardian.