Sunset over the Gomoti Plains area, a community run concession, on the edge of the Gomoti river system southeast of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. ReconAfrica has acquired rights to explore more than 35 000km² in the Okavango Delta watershed, a Unesco-designated world heritage site. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Thirty-four Anglican bishops and three archbishops from around the world have signed a petition that “respectfully” calls on Namibia’s and Botswana’s governments to halt exploratory drilling in the Kavango Basin in northern Namibia immediately.
In their petition, the faith leaders decry the “imminent desecration” of the Kavango Basin in Northern Namibia and Botswana by Canadian oil and gas company, ReconAfrica.
The signatories include the Archbishop of Cape Town, Reverend Dr Thabo Cecil Makgoba; Archbishop Julio Murray, the chair of the Anglican communion environmental network; Archbishop Mark Macdonald from the Anglican Church of Canada; and Bishop Kito Pikaahu, chair of Anglican indigenous network; and the Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Reverend Nicholas Roderick Holtam.
“ReconAfrica claims that drilling the Kavango basin is ‘pretty much a no-brainer’,” the petition reads. “We call it a sin. To destroy life and God’s creation is simply wicked.”
ReconAfrica has acquired rights to explore more than 35 000km² in the Okavango Delta watershed, a Unesco-designated world heritage site.
“This environmentally sensitive, protected area supplies water to the Okavango Delta. It is a world heritage and Ramsar wetland site, a key biodiversity area and one of the seven natural wonders of Africa,” their petition reads.
The petition will be handed over on Monday 8 March to Namibia’s government, the Namibian consulate in Cape Town, the headquarters of ReconAfrica in Vancouver, Canada, and the Canadian ombudsperson for responsible enterprise.
As faith leaders, the signatories state that they are called 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. In doing so, it will also disrupt the livelihoods of the indigenous people,” the petition reads.
Oil and gas drilling will bring vast wealth to a few but will further impoverish northern Namibia people, exacerbating climate change and destroying their traditional way of life.
“ReconAfrica is putting financial interests before life. We believe in restorative social and environmental justice, and we call upon the international community to support Namibia and Botswana to develop renewable energy systems and help safeguard the precious Kavango ecosystem,” the petition reads.
The region is home to the largest remaining population of African elephants and 400 species of birds, as well as being a sanctuary for many other animals. It is protected under the protocol of the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission.
“This exploration violates San rights under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It affects three regional Unesco heritage sites: the Okavango Delta, the Tsodilo Hills and the San Living Cultural Landscape,” reads the petition.
Unconventional oil and gas exploration and extraction will bring roads, heavy trucks, ribbon development and pollution.
“These will disrupt the culture and ancestral heritage and ecosystem dependent subsistence livelihoods of the San people. It will also negatively affect low-impact eco-tourism, which provides a sustainable income to guides, crafters and artists,” the petition reads.
ReconAfrica has denied pursuing unconventional methods, including hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which is designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock. Still, its marketing material and investor presentations refer to the pursuit of both conventional and unconventional methods.
Last month, the company told the Mail & Guardian that the focus is not fracking.
Water is a scarce and precious commodity in Namibia, the driest country south of the Sahara, say the faith leaders.
“Namibia is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. With almost unrivalled
solar-energy potential, extracting ‘billions of barrels of oil’ makes no sense. Reducing carbon emissions is a global responsibility,” reads the petition.
Indications are that the deal between ReconAfrica and the Republic of Namibia’s government was concluded behind closed doors, say the faith leaders.
“Initial meetings were only held in northern Namibia. Only under duress was a further meeting organised in Windhoek, the capital city. Concerns raised by local activists have been belittled, and The Namibian, the national newspaper which broke the story, is being threatened with legal action,” the petition reads
The environmental impact assessment submitted by ReconAfrica does not comply with strict Namibian government standards, they say.
The enormous potential of this oil reserve claimed by ReconAfrica is also under question, because previous geological explorations in Botswana and Namibia have never found such evidence, the petition says. “For humans to destroy the integrity of Earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands … for humans to contaminate the Earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life with poisonous substances, these things are sins.”
A silent protest will be held on the steps of St George’s Cathedral on Thursday at midday.
Last week, the nonprofit organisation Save Okavango’s Unique Life sent a petition to Namibia’s agriculture, water and land reform minister, calling for an immediate moratorium on ReconAfrica’s current petroleum-exploration activities.
On 25 February, Namibia’s minister of environment, forestry and tourism Pohamba Shifeta said it is “premature and confusing” to discuss the risks of one unconventional type of production method “that has not even been applied for by the company [ReconAfrica]”.
“Only if the exploration well discovers oil and gas, the final step in the exploration process will be to determine the economics of the find and to assess the characteristics of the reservoir and to determine if the discovered oil or gas can be produced economically using either conventional or unconventional production methods,” he said in Namibia’s national assembly.
This key step in the process, Shifeta said, will require further approval, from the appropriate regulatory authorities.
It remains to be seen, he said, whether Namibia has a commercially or economically viable oil or gas reserve at the exploration sites, and whether there is a compacted sedimentary reservoir rock “that would require the use of unconventional oil or gas production processes such as fracking in the area”.