Saturday, June 15, 2024

Okavango at risk of being contaminated

Despite claims by Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism, that exploratory drilling for oil and gas by the Canadian company Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica) in Namibia’s Kavango Basin will not impact the Okavango Delta, a recent report claims that there are high chances of potential groundwater contamination from oil drilling in the Okavango.

The report authored by R. Sheldon, S. Esterhuyse, A. Lukas and S. Greenwood titled “Potential groundwater contamination from oil drilling in the Okavango” notes that plans to exploit the potential oil reserves in the Cubango Okavango river basin (CORB) in Namibia and Botswana will have a major impact on the region.

“We also plotted the major geological structures, calculated flowpaths, and estimated travel times for contaminated groundwater that may travel along these preferential flowpaths from the drill sites to the Okavango River and Delta. Results indicate that contaminated groundwater from the oil lease areas could take 3–23.5 years to reach the Okavango River system via the shallow sandy aquifer, but in a worst-case scenario, contamination could reach the Delta within four days via structures associated with dykes and faults that serve as primary flowpaths,” states the report.

In addition, the report notes that “such contamination could adversely affect human health and the region’s ecosystems and biodiversity. We recommend prohibiting oil exploration and production activities within the CORB until future studies can determine the impacts of hydrocarbon extraction with greater certainty.”

The report further emphasises that a unique flow of groundwater from the Botswana lease area toward the Okavango River Basin can be seen in the country’s shallow sandy aquifer.

“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,” states the report.

A growing number of people are opposed to exploration, which will eventually lead to drilling if commercially significant amounts of oil and gas are discovered. In 2021, National Geographic highlighted that “Wringing oil from rocks deep underground requires massive quantities of water, which is scarce in the parched region, and few other water sources are available for people and wildlife during the long dry season. Furthermore, any contamination of the river could be carried downstream into the delta.”  The Okavango Delta’s ecosystem is intimately correlated with the state of Botswana’s economy since it provides livelihoods for a large number of people through agriculture, tourism, animal husbandry, and fishing.


Read this week's paper