What is the Okavango Delta oil exploration project?

The project involves the exploration of the Okavango Basin in Namibia and Botswana for significant oil and gas reserves. ReconAfrica claims that the basin could potentially hold billions of barrels of oil and has begun drilling exploratory wells in the region. Investigations show that it's quite unlikely that these claims are actually true, suggesting that the exploration of the basin is a business model in itself for a no-name company like ReconAfrica and its shareholders.

What are the potential economic benefits?

The project, if successful, could potentially unlock vast oil reserves, with estimates as high as 120 billion barrels of oil equivalent (which would make it a comparably large oil field). Officials hope that this could potentially generate significant revenue and economic growth for Namibia and Botswana, according to leaders of the two nations.

What are the primary concerns?

Environmental Impact: The Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its rich biodiversity. The exploration, particularly if it involves hydraulic fracturing (fracking), threatens the ecological integrity of this fragile environment. The drilling could affect the waterways, potentially leading to habitat loss, and impact the migration routes of various endangered species like elephants​.

Climate Change: The project is seen as a threat to global climate change mitigation efforts. The burning of the oil and gas reserves found could significantly contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions, counteracting efforts to limit global heating as stated in the Paris Climate Agreement​.

Water Resources: There's worry that the project could consume scarce water resources vital for both the local communities and the ecosystem in this semi-arid region​. The Okavango River sustains over half a million people in Namibia and Botswana with fresh water.

Indigenous Rights and Community Consent: The indigenous communities and local residents feel they have been left in the dark regarding the project, with inadequate consultation and information dissemination. The project also poses a threat to the San people's land rights, and there are fears among locals about the lack of financial benefits trickling down to the communities​.

Tourism: The Okavango Delta is a significant tourist attraction, and there's concern that the project could deter tourism, affecting the local economies dependent on it​.

What has been the response from stakeholders?

Various stakeholders have voiced their concerns, opposition, or support for the project. Environmentalists, certain government officials, and indigenous leaders have expressed reservations or opposition due to the aforementioned concerns. On the other hand, proponents argue the economic potential the project holds for the nations involved. The lack of transparency and adequate consultation has been a significant point of contention, inducing protests and petitions from local and international groups​.

What's the current status of the project?

The exploration phase has commenced with drilling of test wells. In June 2023, National Geographic reported that ReconAfrica had stopped drilling in the Okavango Delta watershed. However, as a recent announcement by ReconAfrica’s new CEO Brian Reinsborough shows, ReconAfrica is planning a new drilling campaign slated for early 2024. 

During an African energy conference, Reinsborough emphasized the company's commitment to operating safely within established guidelines, minimizing environmental impact. He mentioned monitoring animal movements and acknowledged the pristine nature of the environment, reiterating ReconAfrica's internal philosophy of "no injuries, no spills, no waste."

This article is part of our current reporting project "Dismantling the Fossil Fuel Industry".