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Bishops call Kavango basin drilling a ‘sin’

2021-05-18  Albertina Nakale

Bishops call Kavango basin drilling a ‘sin’
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While Canadian miner ReconAfrica has moved to calm excitement around “potential billions of barrels of oil”, the Southern Africa Anglican bishops called for an immediate halt to exploratory drilling by the company, and labelled it a sin.  Responding to environmental concerns last week, ReconAfrica spokesperson Ndapewoshali Shapwanale claimed that exploration wells have no impact on the environment. She said all aquifers are protected, using multiple layers of casing and cement.

Although ReconAfrica has confirmed the presence of hydrocarbons in their first stratigraphic test well at Kawe in Kavango East, which provides over 200 metres of oil and natural gas indicators, the Canadian-registered miner explained that even with sufficient quantities discovered, it is still
years away from commencing with commercial drilling operations.  

ReconAfrica’s data analysis from the first of
three wells provides evidence of a working conventional petroleum system in the Kavango Basin. However, ReconAfrica’s explanation does not sit well with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa's environmental network that protested the “imminent desecration” of the Kavango Basin in northern Namibia and Botswana, and called for an immediate halt to exploratory drilling by the Canadian miner. ReconAfrica has bought rights
to drill for oil in more than 35 000 square kilometres of the Kavango Basin in Namibia. 

In a petition signed by the Anglican bishop of Namibia, Luke Pato and over 30 archbishops, they state that this environmentally sensitive,
protected area which supplies water to the
Okavango Delta, is a world heritage and Ramsar wetland site. They argue it’s also a key biodiversity area, and one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

“The region is home to the largest remaining population of African elephants, 400 species of birds, and is a sanctuary for many other animals. It is protected under the protocol of the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission,” Anglican Church of Southern Africa's  environmental network coordinator Rachel Mash said. This exploration also violates the San-speaking people’s rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people. 

The exploration and extraction of oil and gas are expected to bring about roads, heavy trucks, ribbon development and pollution, and Mash said these activities will disrupt the culture and ancestral heritage and ecosystem-dependent subsistence livelihoods of the San people.

Equally, they say it will also negatively affect
low-impact eco-tourism, which provides a sustainable income to guides, crafters and artists. 

Grave concern about the potential damage that ReconAfrica’s planned ‘unconventional drilling’ will do to groundwater has been expressed by specialists from the Geological Survey of Namibia and the general public. 

According to the ReconAfrica website, “oil generated in the basin could be billions of barrels”, and be the “biggest oil play of the decade.

Mash maintained that for Namibia, being a country most vulnerable to climate change, with almost unrivalled solar energy potential, extracting “billions of barrels of oil” makes no sense. She added that reducing carbon emissions is a global responsibility. The Anglican Church is of the opinion that there were also inadequate public participation processes in the Namibian context, claiming indications are that the deal between ReconAfrica and the Namibian government was concluded behind closed doors. Initial meetings were only held in northern Namibia. 

Furthermore, they reasoned that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) submitted by ReconAfrica does not comply with strict Namibian government standards. 

“ReconAfrica claims that drilling the Kavango basin is ‘pretty much a no-brainer’. We call it a sin. To destroy life and God’s creation is simply wicked. As faith leaders, we are called upon to speak up for those who have no voice, and defend the rights of the needy. Drilling in the Kavango Basin will fracture its geological structure and destroy the water system that supports this unique ecosystem and wildlife sanctuary,” reads the petition addressed to the Namibian and Botswana governments. In so doing, the church said it will also disrupt the livelihoods of indigenous people. 

Moreover, it will bring vast wealth to a few, but in doing so will further impoverish the people of northern Namibia, exacerbating climate change, and destroying their traditional way of life. “ReconAfrica is putting the financial interests before life.” Mash stressed the church believes in restorative social and environmental justice, and called upon the international community to support Namibia and Botswana to develop renewable energy systems and help safeguard the precious Kavango ecosystem. 

In light of these facts, the faith leaders called on the two governments to halt drilling with immediate effect.  -

2021-05-18  Albertina Nakale

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