Drilling companies are on the run – or at least they should be.
A worldwide movement to reduce global warming and protect endangered supplies of water has turned its firepower on the growth of oil well drilling, particularly in areas of precious wildlife preserves in southern Africa.
The movement has captured grassroots environmentalists, church groups and land protectors in Namibia and Botswana who are demanding a halt to drilling in the Okavango Delta – a World Heritage site and a vast inland river delta known for its sprawling grassy plains that flood seasonally, becoming a lush animal habitat.
Anglican bishops in Namibia and three archbishops from around the world have expressed their opposition to oil drilling by the Canadian company ReconAfrica, saying it would disrupt the culture and ancestral heritage 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 in the online EcoTourism Expert read. “We call it a sin. To destroy life and God’s creation is simply wicked.”
The Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s most biodiverse habitats, home to a myriad of birds and megafauna species including the largest African elephant population left on the planet.
“The rejuvenating waters of this complex and beautiful ecosystem are so vast it’s visible from space” wrote Prince Harry and Reinhold Mangundu, a Namibian environmental activist, in a Washington Post editorial that appeared this week.
“The Okavango watershed is a natural beating heart that has nourished humans and wildlife in Southern Africa for generations – and it’s at risk,” the authors warned.
Drilling of boreholes for oil exploration can threaten the ecosystem through potential oil spillage, noise pollution and water contamination, said Jan Arkert, a South African-based engineering geologist with the firm Africa Exposed Consulting Engineering Geologists.
“Even during this first phase, we don’t know how they are going to dispose of their wastewater,” Arkert told Al Jazeera.
ReconAfrica insists there will be no damage to the ecosystem and denies that its wells are located in the area of national parks, conservancies or World Heritage sites.
Still, a campaign called #SavetheOkavangoDelta has been started by Fridays for Future Windhoek and Frack Free Namibia and Botswana, two local green groups. An online petition appealing to the governments of Namibia and Botswana reportedly gathered more than 150,000 signatures.
“Who gave the government the right to determine the destiny of Indigenous communities? This is just another case of environmental racism,” Ina-Maria Shikongo, the founder of Fridays for Future Windhoek, told Al Jazeera.
“My worst fear is that it could turn into a new Niger Delta,” she added, referencing the ongoing fight to clean up areas polluted by oil companies there.
Meanwhile, Scot Evans, CEO of Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica), has confirmed his participation at African Energy Week taking place in Cape Town from Nov. 9-12. Evans and senior VP Diana McQueen lead a discussion on Namibia’s hydrocarbon potential and host a Women in Leadership Brunch at Africa’s premier energy event.