Bishops demand end to exploratory oil drilling in Namibia

A man canoes on the Okavango river near an elephant herd, in Bwabwata National Park, Namibia, in 2019. Community leaders in the Okavango wilderness region fear that oil and gas exploration and potential production would threaten water-sources essential to people and wildlife (PHOTO: Alamy)

FOUR archbishops and 34 bishops of the Anglican Communion have signed an open letter demanding that exploratory oil drilling be stopped in northern Namibia.

A Canadian firm, ReconAfrica, has been granted rights by the Namibian government to drill wells to search for oil and gas in the Kavango Basin, an area that spans Namibia and Botswana and is known for its abundant wildlife.

Activists have condemned the decision to begin drilling in the Basin, which includes a UNESCO World Heritage Site, several national parks, and wildlife reserves, and is home to the world’s largest herd of African elephants, among many other protected species.

The petition was signed by the Anglican Church of Canada’s Primate, Dr Linda Nicholls, and its Archbishop for Indigenous Peoples, the Most Revd Mark MacDonald; and the Archbishop of Central America, the Most Revd Julio Murray, .

the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, has also signed the letter, which was organised by the Bishop of Namibia, the Rt Revd Luke Pato, whose diocese is in Dr Makgoba’s Province. Among the 33 other bishops to have signed it is the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment.

“ReconAfrica claims that drilling the Kavango Basin is ‘pretty much a no-brainer’. We call it a sin,” the letter states. “Drilling in the Kavango Basin will fracture its geological structure and destroy the water system that supports this unique ecosystem and wildlife sanctuary. In so doing, it will also disrupt to the livelihoods of the indigenous people.

“Based on the principle of restorative social and environmental justice, we call upon the international community to support Namibia and Botswana to develop renewable energy systems and help safeguard the precious Kavango ecosystem.”

ReconAfrica believes that the area approved for drilling, which is roughly the size of Belgium, could be one of the last remaining onshore oil fields left unexplored on earth, and could contain as much as 31 billion barrels of oil — enough to supply the United States’ entire consumption for four years.Advertisement

But the bishops say that not only does the drilling threaten the groundwater and wildlife of the Kavango Basin: it also ignores the climate crisis. “Namibia is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. With almost unrivalled solar-energy potential, extracting billions of barrels of oil makes no sense,” the letter argues. “Reducing carbon emissions is a global responsibility.”

They also share activists’ concerns about the deal agreed behind closed doors by ReconAfrica and the Namibian authorities, who, campaigners argue, failed to consult local people.

“The process has not been an open one, with Namibians waking up to a mining venture that has already been signed and settled,” Bishop Pato said.

The company has insisted, however, that no harm will come to the environment as a result of its drilling, which began in January. “ReconAfrica will ensure that there is no environmental impact from these wells,” a spokeswoman said this year.

“ReconAfrica follows Namibian regulations and policies as well as international best practices.”

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