Oil and Gas Drilling in the Okavango Region

Location:

Namibia & Botswana

Project risks:

Environmental Destruction, Litigation, Social Harm

Companies:

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Credit: Save Okavango’s Unique Life, SOUL

The beautiful Okavango Delta is under threat. The Canadian company ReconAfrica is developing an oil megaproject right next to Africa’s last, intact wetland wilderness. As the fossil age is ending, ReconAfrica is starting to drill for oil in the home of the world’s largest remaining herd of elephants.

Once a year, the Okavango Delta gets flooded. It turns into a water-rich region full of life in the middle of the Kalahari desert. Credit: Pete Walentin

In January 2021, the Canadian company began drilling test wells in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Nature Conservation Area (KAZA). The KAZA is an environmentally fragile ecosystem that is nearly twice as large as the UK. In it lies the Okavango Delta. The Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. Most of the Delta’s water originates as seasonal rain in Angola’s highlands. It then flows through the Okavango River into the Delta. The River is a lifeline for the big five animal species: elephants, buffalos, rhinos, lions and leopards. They all live in this biodiversity paradise together with giraffes, zebras, antelopes, pangolins and over 1,000 plant species. The Okavango River also supplies over one million people with water.

ReconAfrica’s project would destroy the elephants’ beautiful home. Credit: Cezary Wojtkowski

In 2020, the company published presentations and reports of its plans to start fracking close to the Okavango River. Fracking is especially frightening because it uses pressurized, water-based, toxic chemicals to release fossil fuels deep in the rocks. The effects of fracking are so destructive that it is banned in many countries. Fracking uses gigantic amounts of water, causes earthquakes and contaminates ground and surface water. It can poison humans and the natural food chain. In the face of massive protests, the Canadian company felt compelled to take its fracking presentation off the internet. The company also issued a hard-to-believe statement that it was no longer intending to use fracking.

Fracking is only the tip of the iceberg though. No matter whether ReconAfrica fracks or extracts oil without fracking, it threatens to poison water, soil, plants and animals. The Canadian company will also heavily industrialize the Okavango Region. Networks of access roads, truck traffic and heavy machinery, pipelines, drill rigs and hundreds of oil and gas production wells will replace untouched wilderness. There would be even less room for the indigenous San who have been living in the Okavango Region for over 40,000 years. They have started a wave of protests that keeps on growing worldwide. Indigenous groups, Fridays for Future Windhoek, Frack Free Namibia, Saving Okavango’s Unique Life (SOUL) and groups all around the world are campaigning against the megaproject.

As the protest continues, ReconAfrica is drilling its second exploratory well. Already in this phase, the Canadian oil company is treading on indigenous and local communities’ rights. It is not informing the people who live in the Okavango Region enough about the project and its impacts. The little informing that ReconAfrica does is in English, not in people’s native language. The oil company is ignoring standard environmental protections. It is operating without approved water permits and has not informed people how it is going to dispose of the poisoned wastewater. The company is also facing a lawsuit for clearing land without permission and not compensating its owners.

ReconAfrica claims that it has made the oil discovery of the decade in this unique paradise. It does not mention that its profit-driven project will wreck our climate and one of Africa’s 7 Natural Wonders.

People are protesting against ReconAfrica all around the world. Credit: Alexa Sedge and 350 Africa

Groups working on oil extraction in the Okavango Region: Frack Free Namibia, Fridays For Future Windhoek, The Green Connection, SOUL Alliance, Green Bishop of Safcei, Kavango East and West Regional Conservancy and Community Forestry Association, Andy Gheorghiu Consulting, WWF Namibia, Women's Leadership Centre, Legal Assistance Centre and many more.

Sources:

https://savetheokavango.com/discover-the-region/
https://reconafrica.com/
https://reconafrica.com/wp-content/uploads/ReconAfrica-Report.pdf
https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1432/
https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/The-Worlds-Last-Major-Onshore-Oil-Play.html
https://www.energyvoice.com/oilandgas/africa/266953/namibia-reconafrica-fracking-drilling/
https://www.kavangozambezi.org/en/maps
https://smartwatermagazine.com/blogs/magical-water-destinations/world-wetlands-day-beauty-biodiversity
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/oil-gas-test-drilling-begins-namibia-okavango-region
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/oil-drilling-fracking-planned-okavango-wilderness
https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/4/22/namibia-indigenous-leaders-want-big-oil-out-of-kavango-basin?fbclid=IwAR3_L2wekEB-o46sh6nmF8ArZDmR0f1wISkdMb3gddjYI8_k2V4n0UyJGOY
https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2230/
https://www.okavangodelta.com/the-okavango/tourism/
https://www.fr.de/panorama/ein-paradies-mit-loch-90172644.html
https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-12-15-paradise-is-closing-down-the-ghastly-spectre-of-oil-drilling-and-fracking-in-fragile-okavango-delta/
https://www.okavangodelta.com/the-okavango/wildlife/
https://rabble.ca/news/2021/05/world-we-want-does-not-include-fracking-world-heritage-site-africa
https://www.faz.net/aktuell/wissen/erde-klima/die-wasserresourcen-am-okavango-delta-sind-in-gefahr-17346761.html
https://mg.co.za/environment/2021-02-12-okavango-delta-threat-oil-gas-exploration/

International Energy Agency, 2021. Net Zero by 2050 - A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector (https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050)
http://sevennaturalwonders.org/africa/okavango-delta-2/
https://monde-diplomatique.de/artikel/!5754444