Namibia: Reconafrica Adviser Calls Oil-Drilling Concerns 'Stupidity'

Community members and stakeholders concerned about oil and gas exploration in the Okavango Basin are frustrated at a Reconnaissance Africa (ReconAfrica) adviser's reaction to the issues they raised.

This came after the public consultations which took place at Nkurenkuru in the Kavango West region on 20 January and at Rundu in the Kavango East region on 22 January provided little opportunity for affected parties to ask questions.

Field-based public community meetings were also held with local communities at settlements such as Ncamagoro, Gcuru, Ncuncuni, Cuma, Mbambi, Ncaute and Kawe between 23 and 25 January.

The above communities are situated along the various seismic survey lines of the envisioned drilling project.

ReconAfrica bought rights from Namibia and Botswana to drill for oil in more than 35 000 square kilometres of the Okavango Basin.

The basin is said to be an environmentally sensitive, protected area that supplies the Okavango Delta with water.

The exploration sites are within the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Park - the largest terrestrial transfrontier conservation area in the world incorporating protected and communal land in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Max Muyemburuko, the chairperson of the Kavango East and West Regional Conservancy and Community Forestry Association, says local community members and farmers are upset about the public meeting at Rundu.

"There were many people who wanted to attend, but due to Covid-19 protocols they only allowed 50 people," he says.

Muyemburuko says the meeting was restricted to two hours, with one hour and 45 minutes designated to the company presenting information on the seismic survey, and only 15 minutes allocated to questions.

After that, participants were asked to leave, he said.

Muyemburuko emailed his questions to Sindila Mwiya, a ReconAfrica adviser.

The questions probed the effects of seismic testing on shallow water wells, the strength of ReconAfrica's environmental impact assessment (EIA) and potential damaging impacts to the basin.

"The piecemeal approach of ReconAfrica to the mandated EIA process, starting with the previous EIA for the current well-drilling programme, and then continuing with this next one for seismic surveying seems tailored to slowly ratcheting up approval of this project in an effort to get acceptance without looking at the project as a whole," Muyemburuko says.

He says an Integrated Environmental Assessment is needed to fully inform the decision-making process.

In a written response, Mwiya dismissed Muyemburuko's concerns.

"I am so shocked that in your right mind you think local people in the Kavango East and West regions do not know what they want in their lives and the type of development projects they would like to see in their area.

"Well-attended public meetings have been organised by the regional councils and traditional authorities, and the local communities fully support the developments being proposed in their areas. The application is indeed going ahead," Mwiya said.

'NONSENSE'

"It's very sad to see that people like you, Max Muyemburuko, who have zero experience or training in oil and gas exploration now want to be overnight experts ... Oil and gas exploration is not what you think it is, and let's not try to be clever on highly technical issues you do not understand.

" ... This is utter blindly stupidity [sic] and nonsense of the highest level I have never ever seen," he wrote.

Environmental activist Ina Marie Shikongo, who is the main coordinator of the Fridays for Future Namibian chapter, also received choice words from Mwiya after sharing her concerns.

"Your comments/inputs below are misplaced and irrelevant to the scope of the proposed 2D seismic survey operations.

"Please see attached the draft scoping report with more detailed information on what oil and gas exploration entails, and the facts on the key area of interest, which is not the Okavango River or the Okavango Delta as being pushed by uninformed groups like yours with no knowledge of or experience [in] oil and gas exploration," he wrote in an email.

Another round of public consultations are slated for tomorrow in Windhoek, and will again only allow 50 people to participate.

ReconAfrica said there may be follow-up meetings on zoom.

According to ReconAfrica spokesperson Claire Preece, the company has received favourable feedback from registered stakeholders who attended consultations.

She said claims to the contrary are from a small minority who does not understand the technicalities of the project and various regulatory consultations.

"Community sessions were very well received, and more are happening ... The meetings also discussed the possibility of drilling two new alternative stratigraphic wells near Gcuru.

"Full support of the proposed drilling and 2D seismic survey was shown ... " Preece said.

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