Massive drilling project could endanger Africa’s Okavango Delta


“As an advisory body, when we become aware of these planned or ongoing exploration activities, The Council felt that it was important that the three countries sit down together and discuss together what is is this exactly what is happening and what negative impacts could result,” said Phera Ramoeli, Executive Secretary of OKACOM. Earth Island Diaryemphasizing the importance of information sharing between nations.

Representatives from the three countries met in July 2021. Ramoeli said that part of the outcome of the meeting was the three countries agreed on the need for transboundary environmental impact assessment reports before any new exploration activity. (Exploratory drilling had already started in Namibia by then and exploratory activities other than drilling had already started in Botswana.)

“This should precede any subsequent stage of exploration work and if at some point in the process, we discover that [the activities] Region threat to the basin, [the] countries could take the decision to suspend or stop these activities or find ways to deal with what could be negative impacts,” Ramoeli said.

Botswana’s Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Mines at the time, Mmetla Masire, notes that Recon’s exploration license does not overlap with Botswana’s two licenses. world heritage sites, the Tsodilo Hills and the Okavango Delta. “The core and buffer for the world Heritage sites are excluded from prospecting or exploration in accordance with the requirements of UNESCO World Heritage Convention,” Masire said.

head of unit at UNESCO Guy Debonnet said Botswana and Namibia had assured the UNESCO World Heritage Center that they would not take any action that could directly or indirectly harm the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of World Heritage properties and that all stages of the project would be subject to impacts assessments in accordance with their national laws. “They assured that they will keep the World Heritage Center informed of all future stages,” he said.

For its part, ReconAfrica, through spokesperson Chris Gilmour, said the company had completed a comprehensive and detailed environmental study. Impact assessment for sound exploratory drilling in Namibia, which included detailed consultation with local communities and a range of other stakeholders, including traditional authorities, regarding land use. Gilmour also pointed out that ReconAfrica is taking measures to minimize the impact of noise and vibration on wildlife, as well as on the local environment.

“We use low frequency equipment to protect communications with wildlife and do not operate at at night, when elephants usually communicate, so work doesn’t interfere with wildlife communication or migratory movements,he said.

He added that in Namibia, where exploratory drilling has begun, ReconAfrica’s stratigraphic wells are located 260 km or more from the Okavango Delta.

While ReconAfrica has emphasized its mitigation measures, its 2019 EIA for Namibia has been harshly criticized by experts, who point to a threadbare assessment of impacts on plants, animals, people and water. .

However, exploration activities appear to be continuing. In a new document released in April 2022, the company said it plans to expand its exploratory drilling activities this year with “a multi-well drilling program.”

OKACOM’s Ramoeli said the group recently conducted a fact-finding mission to engage the company on its current business. “At this stage, we are satisfied with the environmental mitigation measures put in place,” he said.

However, the company has already been found violate its exploration permits, including bulldozing protected land. Namibian Environmental Group Frack Free Namibia and Botswana wrote to the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism to express its concern: “Recent feedback from drilling sites has shown that liquid waste has disappeared, due to seepage into the ground and evaporation. None of the liquid waste was removed from the site for proper disposal. »

In the May 2022 letter, the group added that “the remaining solid hazardous waste, which includes a cocktail of organic compounds, salts and naturally occurring radioactive materials, has been covered with a layer of sand. This is not only a violation of the company’s ESG environmental and social governance policy, but also a serious violation of its EIA. »

While the Canadian oil and gas company insists that its planned drilling activities will not have a negative impact on the environment, activists and local communities disagree. It remains to be seen what will become of the proposed project, and what imprint it will leave on the landscape.

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