Four community forestry and conservation organizations in the Kavango region say there is no viable oil in the area as they fight to stop exploration activities by Canadian company ReconAfrica, despite permission granted by the authorities.
The management committees of Ncumcara Community Forest, Muduva Nyangana Communal Conservancy, Katope Community Forest, as well as East and West Kavango Regional Conservancy and Forestry Association communities presented their case to the High Court yesterday.
The group is seeking an interim court injunction against ReconAfrica to prevent it from continuing any oil and gas exploration activity in the region, pending the finalization of an appeal against the Environmental Commissioner’s decision in favor of Recon Energy Namibia (Recon), a subsidiary of ReconAfrica.
The appeal is against the amendments
made on June 15 to ReconAfrica’s environmental clearance certificate, which
will allow the company additional and unspecified exploration activities.
It also allows the company to drill new exploration wells.
Prohibited from court
During their submission, the group’s attorney, Corinna Van Wyk, argued that the case was
one of emergency, as there is a threat of irreversible damage to the environment of the Kavango East and West regions.
She explained that the construction of new wells and supporting infrastructure requires the leveling of forests and other vegetation in the Kavango region into legally protected areas.
“Creating new trails and cut lines will open up previously untouched areas to illegal logging and poaching. In addition, the construction and operation of new stratigraphic wells and the diversion of existing wells create and increase the risks of serious environmental degradation, including groundwater contamination, aquifer depletion and pollution of the environment. ‘ air, argued van Wyk.
She further argued that when the Environmental Commissioner issued the amended Environmental Clearance Certificate, he failed to consult with affected communities and individuals.
“The continuation of exploration activities, while the decision of the Environmental Commissioner in question is under appeal, would amount to a flagrant disregard for the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia and the rule of law. on which it is based,” Van Wyk explained. Thus, a ban is necessary. Presenting a counter argument on behalf of the Environment Commissioner, Deputy Environment Commissioner, Petroleum Affairs Commissioner and Attorney General, attorney Sisa Namandje said the group had no legal status to present the request ; thus, the court cannot grant the requested orders. Moreover, they failed to prove that there was a pending appeal.
“The main stumbling block for the plaintiffs to succeed in his application for interim relief lies in his failure to prove in his founding affidavit that there is indeed a prescribed remedy pending before the Minister for the finalization of which the interim injunction , whether granted, will depend,” argued Namandje.
Environment Commissioner Timoteus Muféti said the court lacked jurisdiction to grant the orders sought by conservation groups.
He said the group did not provide details on how the appeal was filed, filed and served. There is also no proof that the call exists.
“The legislator chooses the minister as a person who can direct the operation, execution or suspension of my decision as the environmental commissioner,” Mufeti explained.
He said halting drilling activities is costly as it costs around US$30,000 (N$475,200) per day, and any delay has financial repercussions.
“If the court were to restrict operations, which include drilling operations to affected wells, it would have catastrophic and adverse effects on the environment if these open wells were not to be left unattended. This will necessarily lead to massive groundwater contamination,” noted Muféti.
Thus, the court should dismiss the claim with costs.
In its defence, ReconAfrica claims that the drilling operations are not taking place in any community forest or reserve managed by any of the conservation organizations.
ReconAfrica and environmentalists
Although ReconAfrica’s oil exploration activities in the Kavango areas have been officially approved by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources, the Canadian-based company has since come under fire from locals, who have claimed there is no had no consultation before the company started operations.
International and local environmentalists also say the company has not fully disclosed how harmful its activities can be, or the environmental impact it will have on the region.
But the company has government backing, as Energy Minister Tom Alweendo pointed out last week, the exploration company is a potential investor in the oil and gas industry, although it has no no discovery yet.
Alweendo observed during the briefing that no one said oil and gas drilling will not harm the environment.