New African oil field threatens ecosystem and thousands of elephants

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Canadian oil and gas company ReconAfrica, listed on stock exchanges in the United States, Canada and Germany, plans to build a massive new oil field in one of Africa’s last great wilderness areas.

Experts warn that the proposed oil field, which stretches across Namibia and Botswana, would threaten thousands of African elephants and devastate local ecosystems, wildlife and regional communities.

This project is the latest threat to the region’s elephants, hundreds of whom have died in the past year. Environmentalists believe the cause of death is linked to increased levels of toxic algae – caused by global warming and rising CO2 levels – in their water points.

Elephants drinking in the Okavango River. (Credit: Hemis / Alamy)

Rosemary Alles, from Global March for Rhinos & Elephants, noted:

It is incomprehensible that ReconAfrica’s hunt for fossil fuels continues. Fewer than 450,000 elephants survive in Africa, up from millions not too long ago: 130,000 of them have established this region as home range, and ReconAfrica’s ill-conceived plans put them directly at risk.

A herd of elephants traveling through the wetlands of the Okavango Delta, Botswana
A herd of elephants crossing the wetlands of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. (Credit: Frans Lanting / Getty Images / Mint Images RM)

ReconAfrica has leased over 34,000 km² of land in the Kavango Basin in Africa. Seismic exploration work has already started and experts say the new oil field could be one of the largest in recent years. In addition, ReconAfrica estimates that the “potential of oil produced” could be between 60 billion and 120 billion barrels worth billions for the local economy.

According to the Namibian government, only exploratory licenses have been granted so far, not allowing any production operation. In addition, he noted that the exploration wells are not located in any “conservation area or ecologically sensitive area and will not have any significant impact on our wildlife”.

However, ReconAfrica’s plans have drawn criticism from environmental groups who say the project could jeopardize critical water supply and threaten Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a vast pristine wilderness and a World Heritage site. , and one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

A silent protest against drilling in the Kavango Basin on March 11 in Cape Town, South Africa
A silent protest against drilling in the Kavango Basin on March 11 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Credit: Gallo Images / Getty Images)

Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation and President of Oilwatch Africa, said:

Every element of this process – from new roads to drilling sites, from refineries to terminals – will devastate the ecosystem and the local communities that depend on it for agriculture and fishing.

Additionally, Alles points out that vibrations from exploration work are disturbing elephants and that increased construction, roads and traffic would drive animals away, opening up the area to compassionate poachers. “Especially when they have young people, they avoid areas where there is all human activity, where there is noise and what they consider to be a danger. This can take them away from their old migratory routes and bring them closer to villages and agricultural areas, leading to more human-elephant conflict, ”Alles explained.

The remains of an elephant in the Okavango Delta
The remains of an elephant in the Okavango Delta. (Credit: Reuters)

Alles said:

There is a deep irony here. Here we are with hundreds of elephants dying from the algae blooms caused by climate change, and a few miles away they want to start drilling for more oil.

However, ReconAfrica argues that the project will bring many jobs and significant economic benefits to the region without harming wildlife and the environment. “We sincerely believe that the region’s stable energy industry can be developed in an environmentally and socially responsible manner that is responsible and supports the development and delivery of much-needed economic and social benefits, as well as the financing of ‘investments in local wildlife and ecological conservation,’ a company spokesperson commented.

The company said there were “measures in place” to address the vibration and noise issues, including:

  • Installation of community solar-powered water wells.
  • Use of water-based, biodegradable and chloride-free drilling fluids.
  • Use of low frequency equipment to “protect communications with wildlife”.
  • They would not “work at night when elephants are generally communicating.”
New African oil field threatens thousands of elephants, ecosystem
(Credit: Pixabay)

ReconAfrica continued:

We are committed to continuing to work closely with and under the direct supervision of the governments of both countries, as well as their regional and traditional authorities, to ensure that we continue to comply with relevant laws and regulations at all stages of our process. surgery. .

In May, the International Energy Agency said the exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must end this year in order for the world to stay within safe limits of global warming and meet the goal of “net zero emissions by 2050”.

Environmentalists point out that extracting billions of barrels of fossil fuels from a massive new oil field in Africa would directly contradict this conclusion – with potentially catastrophic consequences for the climate crisis.

Fridays For Future Windhoek, an environmental conservation organization based in the Namibian capital, describes the oil field as a “gigabomb of carbon”. At the same time, campaigners fear it could serve as a bridge for other projects in southern Africa to follow suit if it comes to fruition.

According to Ina-Maria Shikongo, one of the organization’s coordinators, the region has already been hit by droughts and extreme heat, while climate refugees in search of work and food are on the rise.

Furthermore, Bassey is convinced that oil extraction will not bring prosperity to the Namibian people, adding that the whole world must move away from fossil fuels in the next ten years to avoid climate degradation.

Elephants in Bwabwata National Park in Namibia
Elephants in Bwabwata National Park in Namibia. (Credit: Hemis / Alamy)

Bassey said:

It is essential to understand that we cannot afford to replicate the methods and pathways used by the West to get to where they are today. Looking for new oil wells right now simply means looking for problems for our nations and the planet.

He points out that to “ensure justice in the dirty energy transition”, Western countries should provide financial support to keep fossil fuel resources in the ground by paying “ecological or climate debt” that would allow countries (such as Namibia) to “” build resilience and follow a development path consistent with planetary boundaries.

Earlier this year, scientists led by the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit counted African elephants from space using satellite technology. This breakthrough could help in the conservation of this majestic species.


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