A local farmer from the Mbambi settlement is suing the Namibian branch of the Canadian gas and oil exploration company Reconnaissance Energy Africa – he wants his traditional land back. Meanwhile, ReconAfrica International has announced that it will continue drilling at Mbambi, but is apparently relying on pending decisions regarding further projects. Furthermore, the reality on the ground and the content of independent reports do not appear to do justice to the company’s optimism.
Last week, the first formal legal action was taken against the Canadian oil and gas exploration company Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica). The company has so far been widely accused of exhibiting existing environmental procedures and laws during its activities without apparently following the spirit and spirit of Namibian legislation. After ReconAfrica was finally able to appease the first expropriated farmer Andreas Mawano von Kawe by assigning him alternative farmland, Andreas Sinonge from the Mbambi settlement – where the second borehole is now being built – now wants to bring ReconAfrica to justice before the Namibian Higher Court; he demands back his traditionally granted farmland.
Sinonge receives help from the LAC Legal Services Center and has Reconnaissance Energy Namibia (Pty) Ltd (REN) listed as the first defendant. This is the Namibian subsidiary of ReconAfrica, which has a main stake of 90 percent, while the state-owned National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia (NamCor) has a 10 percent stake on behalf of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) and thus the Namibian government. NamCor is therefore listed as a co-defendant, as is Shambyu local government (under the Sinonges land holdings), as well as the MME, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform (MAWLR) and finally the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT).
In the court documents, Sinonge explains in detail that firstly he was never questioned and secondly by the – in his opinion – inappropriate decision of the “Shambyu Traditional Authority” and responsible officials, who basically allowed ReconAfrica to drill holes on his farm premises, and is adversely affected has been. The area near the Mbambi branch in the Kavango region has been owned by his family since before Namibia’s independence and, like large parts of the area, has been assigned by the local authority or by the chief of his and other families of the tribe. He is now asking the Namibian Higher Court to “restore my property rights … including the restoration of the surface so that I can rehabilitate my grain fields and forests”. During a visit earlier this year, AZ encountered ReconAfrica while preparing a second drilling site near Mbambi. The company had
Among other things, he started digging a drilling mud pit, which Sinonge is angry about in the court documents.
Second drilling site in operation
At the end of last week, ReconAfrica announced on an international level that it had now put its second drilling site, BH 6-1, into operation at Mbambi. The company had previously rated its first well – BH 6-2 at Kawe – a success and confirmed “the existence of a functioning oil system”. Various local professionals – people who were previously involved in oil production themselves – question the accuracy of this statement. ReconAfrica is said to have stopped the well before reaching the targeted depth – ReconAfrica denies this. The oil exploration company is targeting a depth of 3800 meters at Mbambi (BH 6-1) and has expressed optimism to find corroborating evidence of an economically viable oil reservoir.
The company has always insisted that test drilling should only be carried out at three locations and, like the MME, has often repeated in Namibia that the extremely controversial and environmentally harmful oil production through fracking is out of the question. However, ReconAfrica has regularly indicated in its business plans and presentations to investors that it must resort to unconventional extraction techniques. That would amount to fracking for better or worse. AZ had repeatedly asked ReconAfrica’s press officer, Claire Preece, to categorically rule out fracking, but it consistently refused to do so.
More drilling sites
In the meantime, the AZ has had access to a regional map on which six drilling sites are marked, which are allegedly targeted by ReconAfrica: BH 6-1, BH 6-2, BH 2-7, BH 5-2, BH 5- 4 and BH 5-6. These places are all within a radius of about 36 kilometers from the settlement of Ncaute, which in turn is about 50 kilometers south of Rundu, the administrative center of Kavango. ReconAfrica designates BH 6-2 (Kawe) and BH 6-1 (Mbambi) as the first two drill holes in one of the five sub-basins.
Speaking to the local community, it turned out that the absolute majority had no idea what ReconAfrica was up to, and yet ReconAfrica kept claiming that it had conducted proper Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) in advance of the state-approved drilling operations, which required a proper public Discussion and information round is required as a principle, so that “interested parties” (not just experts or locals) can express their concerns and opinions in a protocol. ReconAfrica has always claimed to have met these requirements. However, it was found that these meetings were convened during the COVID-19-related curfew, making it impossible for stakeholders to attend such meetings (they would have known about it themselves).
Announcement prior to approval
Now the company expects to create a Vertical Seismic Profile (VSP) to accurately link the borehole data with its 2D seismic program. This is due to start in June, but this appears to be based on the assumption that it will in principle receive its approval. After the previous questioned EIA recordings had put ReconAfrica in need of explanation, this time it had initiated an environmental impact study for the seismic surveys. This is not yet fully available and has also met with considerable resistance, especially from environmentalists who fear for the largest remaining herd of wild savanna elephants in Africa.
These elephants are found in the Kavango regions as well as in southern Angola, in the delta of the Okavango River in Botswana and in the neighboring regions of Zimbabwe and Zambia – the globally recognized transnational conservation area known as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA). Mbambi and thus BH 6-1 are located in a forest reserve that is part of the KAZA region, which again emphasizes the seriousness of the environmental impact of the ReconAfrica project. It seems that this location was not included in the original EAI and environmental management programs that were submitted to MEFT, among others, when ReconAfrica applied for an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) – according to geologist and environmental expert Jan Arkert.
Chances of success not proven
Arkert also criticizes the “sparse” use of facts and what he calls “cherry picking” from the 2018 Sproule report. Successful oil and gas exploration has largely relied on this area to date – Sproule International is a leading Canadian engineering company surveying underground resources. According to Arkert, the references to oil and gas volumes are misleading, especially as the reports for 2018 and 2020 differ significantly: “You did not disclose the conclusions on pages 11 and 12, which conclude that the geological chances of success ( GCoS) is 8.8 percent and the chances of commercialization (CoC) are only 3.3%. In addition, the oil or gas volume is 36.7 million barrels and the gas volume is 1.59 tcf. This is significantly less than the 120 billion barrels of oil referred to in interviews by Nick Steinberger and Daniel Jarvie or in the most recent advertising literature by ReconAfrica. “
The Sproule report also seems to recognize only the possibility of either gas-only or oil-only production. “The most critical aspect is that the Sproule report was only produced for unconventional oil and gas and NOT for conventional oil,” said Arkert. Arkert is supported in many of his continuing arguments by Matt Totten, who previously worked as a geologist for oil exploration companies. Both agree that ReconAfrica will have no choice but to facilitate extraction through fracking.