Prospering on a new frontier

With Namibia’s energy sector and its overall economy on the cusp of unprecedented transformation given massive offshore oil and gas discoveries, now is the time for much-needed regulatory and other reforms, says energy law expert Shakwa Nyambe of SNC Incorporated.

“There are some key gaps, particularly in the later stages of the lifecycle of oil and gas projects, after exploration,” commented Nyambe, who previously worked as a legal counsel at the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia. “We may need separate regulations for development and production, and we need to do that now, because once we reach production it may be too late. We need to put everything in place and ensure it’s enforced.”

Last year, supermajors TotalEnergies and Shell announced huge offshore discoveries which are set to become multi-billion US dollar projects. Further discoveries in 2023 have added to Namibia’s fast-rising status as a new frontier for African energy, with the nation’s economy expected to double in size over the 15 to 20 years after production begins.

Nyambe, who has represented many international and national oil and gas companies and service providers to the industry, believes the Namibian government should look to learn from other jurisdictions who are managing energy resources well. These include Norway, Tanzania and Canada.

Considering the billions of dollars at stake, he said it’s vital that changes are made to address gaps, implement local content provisions promoting the participation of Namibian companies throughout the value chain, and ensure transparency and accountability, including through the creation of an independent upstream regulator.

“Like other models used around the world, an independent Namibian regulator could issue licences, manage local content, enforce environmental regulations, and monitor petroleum activities,” said Nyambe, who established his boutique Windhoek-based firm in 2019. “Such a regulator can ensure there’s no political interference and eliminate chances of corruption.”

Nyambe noted that under its national energy policy of 2017, the Namibian government itself has long recognised the need for both a local content legal framework to promote the employment of Namibians and the participation of Namibian businesses in the oil and gas industry, and the creation of a regulator independent from the Minister of Mines and Energy.

“So we expect them to ensure that policy decision is implemented by making amendments to current legislation and regulations in order to provide for both of those things,” he said.

Nyambe admits that SNC Incorporated is in a unique position as a specialist local law firm that already has strong expertise and international experience in what is a new frontier for African energy.

“The oil and gas industry has its own intricacies and ways of doing things which require lawyers with knowledge and skills for legal issues and business advice, for compliance with local regulations and international standards,” he explained. “SNC Incorporated has all those attributes. We have the local knowledge of what needs to be done, and can advise from project concept through to the execution of an oil & gas project, and project closure.”

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