On July 12, Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica) announced that the Namibia Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism’s environmental commissioner had approved plans to drill 12 additional exploration and appraisal wells under the northeastern PEL 73 license. This area overlaps with conservation areas close to the Okavango Delta, a World Heritage site. Environmental groups criticized the decision.
NGOs Pressuring ReconAfrica
The Environmental Clearance Certificates (ECCs) extend from July 2023 to July 2026. Critics of ReconAfrica’s exploration activity had hoped for a suspension of activities after reports surfaced of staff departures. Environmental groups will increase their scrutiny of offshore activity in the medium term, but their challenges are not expected to rival those made in South Africa in recent years. Frack Free Namibia has stridently criticized ReconAfrica’s environmental management plan, submitted as part of the ECC applications.The group has stated that the operator’s plan contains factual errors and is not based on industry best practices. Frack Free Namibia has also argued that the environmental assessment practitioner downplayed the risk to local communities.
Based on an August 2022 ruling of the Windhoek High Court, NGOs will likely appeal to the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism Phamba Shifeta to stall ReconAfrica’s drilling plans. A previous ruling found that the minister has the exclusive authority to determine whether an ECC should be suspended pending an appeal.
Environmental groups will also pursue alternative tactics to maintain pressure on ReconAfrica. A coalition of civil society organizations called on the Toronto Stock Exchange to deny ReconAfrica’s application for a new share offering aiming to raise $6.5mn, amid reports that the company is facing financial challenges. The coalition emphasized their concerns over ReconAfrica’s environmental and social impacts if regulatory approval was granted. Local signatories included Earthlife Namibia, the Economic and Social Justice Trust, Natural Justice and the Women’s Leadership Center. The US-based Oil Change International and Canada’s Climate Action Network also support the move.
Unlike neighboring South Africa, NGO opposition to offshore developments in Namibia has been relatively muted. The two countries differ with respect to environmental activism, local communities’ relationships to sensitive marine areas, their organizing experiences and international partnerships. Although we expect opposition to mount against oil and gas activity in Namibia, the legal system governing the country’s environmental licensing for E&P projects makes challenges more difficult to win than in South Africa.
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