Thursday, May 23, 2024

Oil drilling endangers ground water in Botswana – Report

The Okavango River which is the lifeblood for many residents in Botswana could be contaminated as a result of oil drilling by ReconAfrica. This was revealed in a report titled “Potential groundwater contamination from oil drilling in the Okavango” which was authored by senior lecturer at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State, Surina Esterhuyse. ReconAfrica is a Canadian oil and gas company with a subsidiary in Botswana that has been granted a license to explore oil in Botswana and neighbouring Namibia.

The report notes that contaminated groundwater from proposed drill sites in East Kavango could take 1.2 years to reach the Okavango River, adding that contaminated groundwater from another drill site could take only 3.4 years to reach the most sensitive area of the Okavango River system. “The calculated time for groundwater to travel from the selected sites in the lease areas to the Okavango River system via the shallow sandy aquifer is rapid, given the high hydraulic properties of the aquifer.

Contamination from the West Kavango province in Namibia could infiltrate the river system along the Cubango River, moving towards the Okavango Delta,” states the report. The report adds that “travel time along fractured zones associated with geological structures is expected to be significantly faster than groundwater movement through porous media,” and that “the pervasiveness of the Okavango Dyke Swarm and faults crosscutting the ReconAfrica lease areas and the Okavango Basin creates a complex network of interconnected structures.”

This runs counter to ReconAfrica Project overview which states that “The water-based system ReconAfrica has opted to use has been tested and proven safe and environmentally sound and has been approved for use by the most stringent regulatory regimes around the world.” According to Surina Esterhuyse and the report’s other three authors, a full understanding of the groundwater sources, routes, and receptors must come before oil and gas production activities in the Okavango River region may resume.

Their report was based on publicly accessible borehole data from the Botswana Department of Water Utilities and the Botswana Geoscience Information Centre. There are concerns that oil drilling could alter the Okavango River ecology, which supports thousands of people in Botswana through tourism, arable farming, animal farming, and fishing.

“Oil extraction in the lease areas could present a high risk to the health of the ecosystem, biodiversity, and human health and well-being in the region, given the detrimental effects of unconventional oil and gas contaminants on wetland ecosystems.


Read this week's paper