Namibia: Canadian Oil Driller Threatens to Sue the Namibian

Judge's gavel (file photo)
16 February 2021

The Canadian oil company that is currently drilling in a sensitive ecosystem in the Kavango region is threatening to sue The Namibian over a report published last month.

ReconAfrica is drilling in areas of the Kavango East region which are considered to be environmentally sensitive and protected territory sustaining the Okavango Delta.

Its main shareholder and founder is Craig Steinke, an exploration businessman who is likely to win big if oil is found in the area.

The company, which has been facing criticism over its plans, has been threatening the media with lawsuits.

It wrote a letter to The Namibian on 26 January 2021, demanding a retraction of the report through law firm Shakwa Nyambe and Co Inc.

The Namibian joins environmental magazine National Geographic, which ReconAfrica has also threatened with a lawsuit.

The Namibian's article, titled "Canadians to consult on Okavango drilling" reported on consultative meetings through which the company was set to comply with national regulations.

The company was not pleased with the article, the image that was used, and specific details provided.

Reference was made to activities in the Okavango Delta and public consultations, which, at the time, were still to take place.

ReconAfrica related several statements in the article, calling them "inaccurate", "erroneous" and "disrespectful to the Namibian government".

The company said the image used in the article is of the Okavango Delta, which is an unlicensed area and about 280 km away from its initial drilling site.

"The said picture is therefore misleading to the public", the company through its representative said. ReconAfrica has been granted exploration rights by Namibia and Botswana to drill in an area of more than 35 000 square kilometres.

"There are many protected areas in the area which are not part of ReconAfrica's licensed area," the company's lawyers said.

The company says the article, which informed the public to submit written comments, input and objections to possible exploration, "was grossly misleading".

The lawyers said public consultations were solely in conjunction with the upcoming 2D seismic survey environmental impact assessment process, and would not be on petroleum activities as stated in the report.

"Henceforth, we demand on behalf of our client that you retract the misleading statements outlined above from your website and other social media platforms, as well as the picture purporting to be the licensed area, and that you further publish a retraction apology in your newspaper," the law firm said.

Public consultations subsequently took place at Nkurenkuru in the Kavango West and Kavango East regions last month.

This provided affected parties little opportunity to ask questions.

ReconAfrica has been threatening several critics, including the media, in recent months.

Last month National Geographic reported the company sent them a letter from a Namibian attorney "threatening legal action against National Geographic if its previous story was not amended or retracted".

The magazine reported that Extinction Rebellion, a global movement pushing governments to address climate change, Fridays For Future, and celebrity anti-frackers such as United States film director Josh Fox all are supporting an ongoing campaign on Twitter and Facebook under the banner of the group Frack Free Namibia and Botswana.

National Geographic said the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation too is "following with attention and concern".

Two weeks ago, the World Wildlife Fund said ReconAfrica's approach to assessing potential impacts is not satisfactory, due to the potential scale of the drilling operations and the complex hydrology of the basin.

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