'Premature' to discuss fracking

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta says oil and gas exploration in the Kavango does not mean that production will go ahead, or that fracking would be permitted.

08 March 2021 | Environment

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta says it is “premature and confusing” at this stage to discuss the risks of fracking in the Kavango regions, when ReconAfrica has not even applied to use the method yet.

Shifeta said the oil and gas exploration area is more than 260 km from the Okavango Delta in Botswana and is not taking place in any conservancies.

Shifeta was responding to questions posed in Parliament regarding fracking and Reconnaissance Energy Africa’s (ReconAfrica’s) oil and gas exploration project.

Shifeta said ReconAfrica’s exploration is based on the subsurface petroleum exploration rights granted to it by the mines ministry under a Petroleum Explorations Licence (PEL).

“It is not a production licence and the licence issued to ReconAfrica does not allow it to carry out any production operation at its sites.”

The environment ministry, through the office of the environmental commissioner, approved the drilling of two exploration wells on 26 August 2019, said Shifeta.

He said that did not give the company permission to go ahead with fracking.

Footprint

Shifeta said the exploration activities would be limited to an area situated about 80 km south of the Okavango River, 40 km from the boundary of the Khaudum National Park, and more than 260 km from the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

“The approved two stratigraphic wells are furthermore not located in any conservancy or environmentally sensitive area. The potential footprint for this activity will only occur on the area that is not bigger than 250 x 250 metres around each well. The actual size of the wells to be drilled is about 30 x 30 cm.”

He said the exploration is just one part of a standard, step-by-step data collection process typically followed when exploring for underground resources.

“All of these various exploration steps are subjected to regulatory approvals as applicable in Namibia.”

Next step

“The next phase, if approved, will be 2D ground seismic surveys and then the drilling of exploration wells.”

According to Shifeta the company has applied for environmental clearance to undertake a 2D ground seismic survey and consultations took place at the exploration site and in Windhoek in recent weeks.

“Only if the exploration well discovers oil and gas, the final step in the exploration process will be to determine the economics of the find and to assess the characteristics of the reservoir and to determine if the discovered oil or gas can be produced economically, using either conventional or unconventional production methods.”

Shifeta stressed that this step in the process would require further approval.

Fracking

He explained that fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the unconventional production process used to extract oil or gas from sedimentary rocks that are highly compacted with poor permeability.

“It remains to be seen whether Namibia has a commercially or economically viable oil or gas reserve at the exploration sites and whether there is a compacted sedimentary reservoir rock that would require the use of an unconventional oil or gas production process such as fracking in the area.”

Shifeta said that the ministry was fully aware of the risks involved with fracking and the experiences of many other countries using this production method.

“I am furthermore confident that we have appropriate laws and capacity to deal correctly with the specific project.”

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