Seen from space, fingers of green define Botswana's Okavango Delta. This approximately 7,000-square-mile wetland amid the Kalahari Desert is fed by rains in Angola’s highlands. Brimming with wild animals and plants, the delta “is what the term ‘biodiversity hot spot’ was coined for,” says Marion Hammerl, president of the Global Nature Fund. Experts say that if large-scale oil production in a massive area north and west of the delta were to proceed, it would harm this fragile ecosystem.
Conservationists and community leaders in the spectacular Okavango wilderness region of Namibia and Botswana are raising alarms over oil and gas exploration and potential production that they fear would threaten the water resources of thousands of people and endangered wildlife.
ReconAfrica, a petroleum exploration company headquartered in Canada, has licensed more than 13,600 square miles of land in the two countries. The home page of the company’s website says its intention is to open “a new, deep sedimentary basin”—in other words, a new oil and gas field. The Kavango Basin, as the area is known to geologists, is larger than the country of Belgium, and ReconAfrica says it could hold up to 31 billion barrels of crude oil—more than the United States would use in four years if consumption remained the same as in 2019. It’s possibly the world’s “largest oil play of the decade,” Oilprice.com, an energy news site, said in September.
ReconAfrica’s initial goal, already approved by the Namibian government, is to drill test wells roughly one and a half miles deep in the country’s northeast starting in December 2020 to determine the presence of exploitable oil and gas. Experts who have reviewed the Namibian environmental impact assessment for the test wells point to serious problems in the way it was carried out. Meanwhile, approval for a drilling permit in the licensed area in Botswana is under way.
If ReconAfrica finds oil, a February investor presentation says, then the ultimate goal is to drill “hundreds of wells” in...