While Namibia is taking steps towards becoming the green hydrogen hub of the world, it is also determined not to leave the fossil fuel industry behind - rather these two worlds will come to stand face to face with each other in the small coastal town of Lüderitz.

This south-western town was best known for its colonial buildings and wildlife.. Today it is known as the home of Namibia’s green hydrogen aspirations with a US$ 10 billion investment in various renewable energy projects. Lurking in the shadows, however, is a recent oil discovery.

As of 2022, it seems that the same town will be gambling with the dangers of oil exploration as oil majors Shell, Qatar Energy and TotalEnergies discovered oil in the Orange Basin offshore from Lüderitz and further down closer to the coastal town of Walvis Bay. According to the Namibia Presidency these discoveries have the potential to generate between N$60-N$95 billion (US$311 - US$493 billion) in annual taxes and royalties and to create 3 600 jobs at the peak of production. 

Herbert Jauch, co-founder of the Economic and Social Justice Trust, a group of activists that promotes struggles for economic and social justice, says these companies are pulling wool over the public’s eyes: 

“Oil rigs and companies like Shell bring their own international crews. So in terms of job creation, oil drilling holds virtually no benefits and is quite meaningless to everyday Namibians.”

On the other end, Hyphen Hydrogen Energy, the company behind the Namibian Green Hydrogen Project, promises to create up to 15 000 construction jobs and 3000 permanent jobs. This raises questions : With plans of green hydrogen production, a hydropower plant and the roll out of solar and wind farms ‒ does Namibia really need to exploit the resources that put its people, animals and ecosystems in harm's way?

While some Namibians are concerned about the recent oil discoveries, the government, specifically the Prime Minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, believes that Namibia has to invest in fossil fuels in order to afford the transition to renewable energy. 

"Although low-carbon Industrialisation is the goal, African countries agree that it is a costly one. In order to be part of the global energy transition, Namibia needs to exploit all its resources to generate the revenue required to transition into a low carbon industrialised economy," she said in relation to Namibia’s plans to invest in oil.

Opposing this argument is Fadhel Kaboub, a Tunisian economist, who argues that African countries should use their resources and capabilities to leapfrog into a reliable renewable energy system and industry. 

“What I’m proposing is to see the fossil fuel industry as a traditional form of industrialisation that was imposed on us. Instead, we should develop our own industrial policy, using our natural resources and capabilities with partnering countries from the global North on the technological front to manufacture the technology of the future and the energy of the future. This type of industrialisation doesn't require relying on the fossil fuel industry.”

For Herbert, the risk is far too big to take and Namibia should try to move away from fossil fuels as far as possible:

“At this point in human history, with the climate catastrophe unfolding, should we bepursuing oil and gas at all? We've seen the dangers of offshore oil drilling around the world, and Namibia is no different.”

Among those concerned about the dangers that offshore oil drilling holds for Namibia is Naude Dreyer, co-founder of Ocean Conservation Namibia, an environmental trust. He is particularly concerned about the impact of seismic surveys on marine life. 

“Seismic surveys have been proven over and over again to be detrimental, especially to dolphins and whales. There is even speculation that they are linked to mass strandings, for example, of the pilot whales in Australia or in the North Sea,” says Naude.

According to him, in recent years Ocean Conservation Namibia has also found whales washed up on the beach, in seemingly perfect health, with a completely unexplained death. 

“You can't link it directly to seismic surveys, but I would say it's definitely a possibility because dolphins and whales have sophisticated hearing systems that make them extremely sensitive to the loud sounds used in underwater seismic surveys.”

Another of Naude’s concerns is that Namibia has not the capacity to handle a proper environmental fallout, like an oil spill. This might be tangible, as Namibia came face to face with an ecological disaster 15 years ago: Oil leaked from an old shipwreck in a prime breeding spot for the African penguin. In 2009, the community of Lüderitz and Namibia experienced its biggest oil spill to date, with about 100 km of coastline affected and more than 200 African penguins drenched in oil - penguins that had to be transported to Cape Town because Namibia only has one, very small, rehabilitation centre.

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