Canadian miner ReconAfrica has moved to calm excitement around potential billions of barrels of oil while locals and environmentalists square up for a prolonged fight with the company.
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-based miner explained that even with sufficient quantities discovered, it is still years away from commencing with commercial drilling operations. Encouraging signs from ReconAfrica’s data analysis from the first of three wells provides clear evidence of a working conventional petroleum system in the Kavango Basin. “We are years away from that (commercial operations) currently. We have just started our exploratory programme and are at the initial phase of exploration. Following completion of this step, acquiring the 2D seismic data, we will then plan for our next phase of exploratory wells. This will then be followed by an appraisal well programme,” explained ReconAfrica spokesperson, Ndapewoshali Shapwanale.
She added that in stratigraphic test wells, the company is not testing for production rates as these and many other factors will be determinants of commerciality. Thus far, ReconAfrica has completed the drilling of one stratigraphic well, (6-2) at Kawe and is in the process of drilling a second well at (6-1) at Mbambi.
Both wells are located in the Kavango East region and while the location of the third well (5-2) has been confirmed, drilling has not commenced there yet. Wells are being drilled to approximately 4 000 metres.
ReconAfrica intends to drill three wells for now, but this figure might change when more data is extracted from the current programme and the 2D seismic currently in the permitting phase. Ultimately, ReconAfrica would expect to drill more wells within such a large license area.
“It is too early to determine the commercial viability of the hydrocarbons in the Kavango Basin, but if it is deemed viable, it will be up to the Namibian government to make decisions regarding how and when resource extraction may take place,” said Shapwanale.
However, locals have complained that they were not consulted. All People’s Party (APP) Secretary General Vinsent Kanyetu in April claimed traditional authorities in the areas where ReconAfrica is exploring for oil have not been consulted.
Kanyetu called on ReconAfrica owners or directors to engage the traditional leaders, who are the custodians of the area.
“We consulted the Shambyu and Ukwangali traditional leaders and they don’t have full information as to what is really happening and how they are going to benefit if the resources are discovered and the oil drilling has to continue,” said Kanyetu.
Afrikaans daily Republikein reported on Monday that a family living in the area filed an affidavit with the High Court to force ReconAfrica to leave and restore the area of its second test well.
Shapwanale said, “we completed numerous consultation and engagement sessions regarding our seismic and stratigraphic and ongoing project activities, directly with communities and interested stakeholders by reaching out to traditional authorities, community leaders and community members both in formal consultation community meetings and also in what is locally known as ‘cluster village interaction’ sessions, where we go homestead-to-homestead.”
She said the company “will continue to expand our engagement activities”.
Since ReconAfrica recently commenced its exploratory programme, the company is only at the initial phase of exploration. Once they have obtained 2D seismic data, this will be coupled with data acquired from the stratigraphic wells along with the seismic data whereafter experts will advise on the next steps to plan for exploratory wells. Only once these steps are done will they start with an appraisal well programme.
Shapwanale continued that the company has not applied for, nor been granted or given any licences that may allow or support fracking, or any other form of ‘unconventional’ energy exploration.
Said Shapwanale: “The well casing and drilling techniques we use ensure that there is no impact on aquifers. The wells are fully contained before we introduce our 100% organic water-based drilling fluid system. That system includes measures at the surface to ensure there is no possibility of contamination of water sources above or below the surface.
Additionally, we are drilling water wells at each exploratory well location to identify and analyse aquifers that are present, provide water for our operations and provide adjacent aquifer monitoring during drilling. Following our exploratory drilling programme, the potable water wells will belong to the community.”
Responding to environmental concerns, Shapwanale clarified that exploration wells have no impact on the environment. She explained that all aquifers are protected using multiple layers of casing and cement.
“Our wells will be drilled with organic and biodegradable water-based drilling fluids and we will use the most effective casing and materials to ensure complete protection of all water sources and aquifers. There is a reclamation plan for each of the exploration drill sites to return them to the initial state once operations are completed,” she said.
Meanwhile, ReconAfrica emphasised that it is committed to protecting the environment, avoiding environmentally sensitive areas, minimising disturbances and implementing international petroleum industry best practice in all operations.
Said Shapwanale: “We are focused on conventional oil and gas reservoirs which flow naturally under their own pressure. This means minimal use of water, no hydraulic fracking, whatsoever. To further indicate that we have no interest in unconventional oil and gas, ReconAfrica has purchased and is using a Crown 750 drilling rig, a relatively small, truck-mounted drill designed for desert mobility and light impact. Our equipment can drill to a maximum depth of 13 000 feet (4 000 metres). The rig is designed for vertical wells only, not for horizontal wells.”
ReconAfrica directly employs eight foreigners from the United States of America and Canada. As of May 2021, over 200 Namibians have been and are employed by the project with over half from Kavango East and West. This percentage, said Shapwanale, reflects the importance of Reconnaissance Energy Namibia hiring locally. These numbers are expected to increase for each activity that takes place and especially during the seismic campaign.
“Our legal and land affairs, project management, stakeholder engagements, communications along with certain operational activities are being led by Namibians and we are in the process of growing our in-country team. We have also established offices in Rundu, run and managed by local people from Rundu,” Shapwanale stated.