Oil Drilling In The Okavango Watershed : Alliance Earth

Since October of 2020, the Alliance Earth team has been working on a project outlining the dangers of unsustainable oil and gas drilling in the watershed of the Okavango Delta.

In late 2020, ReconAfrica’s exploration activities were first uncovered by the Alliance Earth team and published in a series of articles in local regional and international publications, including National Geographic, The Namibian and The Daily Maverick.

Sunrise on the Okavango River about 120 km before it enters the Delta. On the left is Angola. On the right is Namibia. The Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Siteand home to many of the most iconic large mammals left on Earth, including the largest herd of endangered African elephants in the world. It is also a vital lifeline for almost a million people. Photo: Copyright Jeffrey Barbee

Alliance Earth director Jeffrey Barbee and fellow writer Laurel Neme have now published ten original stories on the efforts of Canadian drillers Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica) to drill oil and gas wells in this vitally important area for both people and wildlife.

As a result of this series of stories and the subsequent local and international outcry, additional questions have arisen regarding the environmental and human rights threats posed by oil and gas development in Okavango Delta system, as well as the propriety of ReconAfrica and certain government officials’ conduct, and the adequacy of environmental assessments and community consultations undertaken to date.

Some of the results of this story series:

  • UNESCO insisted that Tsodilo Hills, a World Heritage site, be removed from ReconAfrica’s licensed exploration area after we reported it had been included. 
  • A whistleblower who read our reporting filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging “egregious” violations by ReconAfrica, including investor fraud. Germany’s financial regulatory agency now is looking into the company’s trading activities, and Canada’s TSX Exchange has received a request to investigate while the Canadian police have opened an investigation into the company as well.
  • Members of Congress wrote a letter to the Departments of Justice and State, USAID, and the SEC, citing our reporting and calling for a “thorough and coordinated investigation” into ReconAfrica’s activities. 
  • A U.S. Congressional delegation, relying on our reporting, raised questions about ReconAfrica’s activities with officials during a visit to Namibia. 
  • The Congressional International Conservation Caucus met with Botswana’s ambassador to the U.S. to discuss what our reporting uncovered. 
  • A farmer in the Namibian license area filed a High Court case alleging that ReconAfrica seized his family’s land. 
  • Parliamentary hearings on the exploration in Namibia began last June, spurred by local activists relying on our reporting. 
  • An investors’ rights law firm in New York filed a class action against ReconAfrica and its executives last October, alleging violations of federal securities laws. 
  • ReconAfrica has backed down from its plans to frack and now says it will drill only conventional wells. Botswana’s president and Namibia’s petroleum commissioner now say they won’t allow fracking. 
  • Community activists led numerous protests following our reporting.  
  • Celebrity environmentalists including Leonardo DiCaprio, Forest Whitaker, and Ellen DeGeneres amplified our reporting and signed an open letter calling for a moratorium on ReconAfrica’s drilling. Prince Harry published an Oct. 2021 op-ed in the Washington Post based on our stories. 

This series is ongoing.


You can read our National Geographic story series as well as our work with the Daily Maverick and The Namibian here. 

ReconAfrica’s 2nd drilling site near the town of Mbambi. The well site is inside of the Kapinga Kamwalye Community Conservancy, and the company has not received the legal right to drill here. Photo: Copyright Jeffrey Barbee