Opposition to Reconnaissance Energy Africa’s work in northern Namibia is growing, with a petition handed in to the Namibian consul general in South Africa and Leonardo diCaprio tweeting against the drilling plans.
Local environmentalists launched a protest walk in South Africa on February 1. This culminated in the group handing in a petition today.
The document from the San people said the area in which ReconAfrica was working was a “most sacred homeland”. The company did not consult with local people, the petition complained.
It went on to say Namibia and Botswana were breaking their international commitments, in addition to domestic laws.
Local communities “don’t need this oil and gas exploring or drilling”, Q Seven Beckett, who participated in the walk and handover of the petition, told Energy Voice. “We are looking at activating the youth across Africa for environmental issues, which are of great concern, not just what is happening in Okavango.”
The petition involved indigenous leaders, communities and the general public, he said. “We are now looking at moving actions Joburg, Pretoria and Durban before two of us walkers head to Namibia.” The group will work with local communities “to voice their concerns and translate the fight into indigenous languages”.
The concerns follow some reports of difficulties for ReconAfrica in operations. The Frack Free Namibia & Botswana group said on February 5 that the drill bit on its rig had broken at a depth of about 1,000 metres. The group said it would take weeks to rectify the problem.
The company began drilling the well on January 11. At the time, it said it expected to complete the well around the end of February.
Another local group, Saving Okavango’s Unique Life (SOUL), alleged ReconAfrica had not lined a containment pool at the well. The company’s plans did not explicitly state this would be done, but did say that it would not “allow any hazardous substance to soak into the soil”.
ReconAfrica had told National Geographic in October 2020 that it would line pits and dispose of cuttings properly.
The company has not yet responded to a request for comment on progress at the well and containment plans.
Local groups are concerned that the Canadian company will carry out fracking in the region. ReconAfrica has denied this repeatedly and it would be economically challenging given the lack of local infrastructure.
The Botswana Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, on February 10, said fracking was not part of the exploration plan.
ReconAfrica’s local subsidiary is acquiring data and commissioning an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on the area, the ministry said. These are the steps that lead to seeking a licence to drilling.
WWF Namibia has called for a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) on the cross-border area, rather than “piecemeal EIAs”. The NGO said Namibia should not approve any more EIAs, or further work, in the basin.
Progress should be contingent on a “holistic SEA … and the full set of exploration implications assessed”.
Leonardo diCaprio retweeted a National Geographic article about drilling in the Okavango Delta. The article raised concerns about potential hydraulic fracturing, the impact of seismic testing and a lack of local consultations.
DiCaprio has talked of the importance of shifting away from hydrocarbons. He supports efforts to end carbon emissions by 2035.
— Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) February 11, 2021