Andrew Kathindi

It has emerged that ReconAfrica, a Canadian company that has been undertaking controversial oil drilling at Kawe village, in the Kavango East,has been operating without water permits.

This was confirmed to Windhoek Observer by Minister of Agriculture, Water, and Land Reform, Calle Schlettwein.

According to Maggy Shino, the Petroleum Commissioner at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the company needs a water permit before commencing with its business, even if an oil and gas exploration licence is granted. ReconAfrica announced on January 11 that it had commenced drilling operations on the first well (6-2), and recently mobilised its rig to the second location (6-1), located 16 kms north of the first drill site.

This according to insiders is being done in direct contravention of Namibian regulations, as the company has not received any Government approval for its water usage, including any drilling for water that has occured.

Water is key for cooling and lubricating the drill bit when drilling.

“That can be confirmed that they do not have a license for all the boreholes. They must still apply,” Schlettwein told Windhoek Observer when approached for comment.

According to the Water Resources Management Act, no one “may abstract and dispose of groundwater from a mine or other excavation to facilitate mining or other underground operations” except under authority of the licence which is issued by the Minister.

This comes as reports by National Geographic state that ReconAfrica has been disposing of wastewater unsafely and without permits, and has allegedly put the safety of the nearby wildlife at risk.

According to the Water Resources Management Act, the holder of a licence to dispose of groundwater may not dispose of water abstracted under the licence at a place, or in a manner other than the place or manner specified in the licence or as approved by the Minister in writing.

“Before they undertake the different activities, they need to liaise with the different relevant regulatory authorities for those activities to be taken. We give them the license to explore first, and then they have to contact the Ministry of Environment to undertake the environmental impact assessment,” the Petroleum Commissioner, Shino said.

The Windhoek Observer could not verify how the company was able to obtain an environmental impact assessment without first obtaining a water permit. This, according to the Agriculture, Water, and Land Reform Minister has not been done to date. Shino further explained that the license for oil and gas is the first step for any oil and gas hopeful company in the country.

“Following from that is the different activities that are to be performed when a company is exploring comes later after the license to explore is granted.”

“Drilling an exploration well is just one of the activities of undertaking exploration. There are two drill operations. The one that the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for is the one where they drill for water that they are utilizing at the site.”

Whether the company would be in contravention of Namibian laws if they are going ahead with drilling without an agreement or license from the Ministry of Agriculture, Shino said this should be confirmed with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Environmentalists across the world have criticised the oil exploration company’s presence in the Kavango region, stating that it could cause irreparable damage. Questions to ReconAfrica were not responded to by the by time of publication.