A class action lawsuit has been filed in a Namibian court against ReconAfrica, a company that has been issued with a licence to explore for oil and gas in the Okavango region that is contiguous between Namibia and Botswana.
Four community forest and conservancy organisations from the Kavango region in Namibia have fired the latest legal salvo against ReconAfrica with a lawsuit seeking to restrain the company from continuing any oil and gas exploration activities there.
The applicants are also challenging the recent amendments to the company’s Environmental Compliance Certificate that was approved by the Environmental Commissioner of the Namibian Ministry of the Environment, Forestry and Tourism. The applicants are the management committees of the Ncumcara Community Forest, the Muduva Nyangana Communal Conservancy, the Katope Community Forest, and the Kavango East and West Regional Conservancy and Community Forest Association.
Cited as respondents in the case are Namibia’s environmental commissioner and deputy commissioner, ReconAfrica, the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia, which is in a partnership with ReconAfrica, the Minister of the Environment, Forestry and Tourism, the Minister of Mines and Energy, the Commissioner of Petroleum Affairs in the mines and energy ministry, and the Attorney General.
They also want the court to order that the Environmental Commissioner in the Ministry of the Environment, Forestry and Tourism not to allow ReconAfrica to drill new exploration wells in terms of an environmental clearance certificate that the Commissioner has granted to the company. The court has deferred its ruling on the preliminary points raised by the company and other respondents to 3 August 2022.
Commenting on the case, ReconAfrica stated that pending a final determination by the court on the interim interdict, it is permitted to continue with those oil and gas exploration activities which have been authorised by the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) Amendments, including the drilling of the company’s 8-2 well. ReconAfrica, representatives of the Namibian government and other respondents are opposing the application, including any interim relief sought by the applicants, such as the interim interdict. ReconAfrica said it will provide further updates on the application as they develop.
While the company has denied that it plans to carry out fracking on either side of the border, it continues to dominate concerns from local and international environmentalists. Early this year, Botswana’s mineral and energy minister Lefoko Moagi said Botswana would take decisions in the best interests of the country. “This may not be in the best interest of mining or exploration. It may be the environment or the communities,” Minister Moagi said.
BaSarwa activist Gakemotho Satau, who lives in the affected area, has said relevant public consultation was not conducted in Botswana. “We are not sure yet what legal documents the authorities issued to ReconAfrica to begin drilling boreholes for their seismic survey,” Satau said. “We are not sure if they will be drilling or not. The minister only came to Shakawe late last year to introduce ReconAfrica in a closed-door meeting to the village leadership (magosi and VDC members). The general public were not welcome into that meeting. Our colleagues were not allowed in when they wanted to participate.”
He added that to the best of their knowledge, no environmental authorisation is currently in place in Botswana, although a petroleum licence has been awarded to the company to explore some 9 921km2 between the Okavango Delta and the Namibian border. According to Satau, no social impact assessment has been carried out (yet), but discussions are ongoing to develop terms of reference for one. “What we see looming are consequences of the oil works which are not environmentally-friendly, pollution of underground water and other health hazards and people being evicted from their land,” he said.
Recon Africa is a Canadian oil and gas company engaged in the opening of newly discovered deep Kavango Sedimentary Basin in the Kalahari Desert of northeastern Namibia and northwestern Botswana where the company holds petroleum licences comprising approximately 8.5 million contiguous acres. ReconAfrica insists that it is committed to minimal disturbance of habitat in line with best international standards and will implement environmental and social best practices in all of its project areas.