Groundwater threatened by drilling

19 January 2021 | Disasters

Windhoek • Frank Steffen


In 2011, a hydrological study dating back to 2001 was republished. Together with the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR in Hanover, Germany), the then Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development as well as the Ministry of Mining and Energy compiled the study "Groundwater in Namibia", which was intended as supplementary explanation for the Namibian hydrology map.
Greg Christelis and Wilhelm Struckmeier are listed as editors and personalities such as Frank Bockmühl, Piet Heyns, Gabi Schneider, John Mendelsohn and Sindila Mwiya are listed alongside many other specialists.
In the study, all water-bearing basins and wells in Namibia were analysed: Which regional geological composition influences the well, where the water comes from, how quickly it runs and what risks these basins are exposed to – in particular on account of the resource being utilized by way of drilled boreholes.
The Okavango-Epukiro Basin, which extends from the northern border of Namibia over the entire Okavango region (from the Angolan border in the north and the Botswana border in the east) to the level of the karst valley not far from Grootfontein, on to Otjiwarongo and down to just before Gobabis, is also mentioned. This is part of the prehistoric Permian Basin, which the company Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica) describes as “another world-class Permian basin, analogous to the Texan sedimentary basin”.
In the BGR study, the basin is described in two parts: The Kavango region consisting of layers of unconsolidated deposits that house a porous aquifer (aquifer comprising loose or solid rock, whose pore space is traversed by groundwater), while the Omaheke region (Epukiro) rests on a fractured aquifer.
According to the report, the bedrock consists mainly of sedimentary and quartz rocks as well as marble, mica schist and amphibolite. Because of its permeable layers, it is relatively easy to drill for water, but there is also the danger of water pollution, especially as all of the water in the basin is interconnected.

Open discussions
Meanwhile, the company Risk-Based Solutions cc (RBS is a self-proclaimed technical specialist for oil, gas, mineral and energy exploration) has invited the public to three meetings and open discussions, as ReconAfrica intends to submit an application for an environmental impact certificate.
The meetings will be held at:
• Nkurenkuru on 20 January;
• Rundu on 22 January; and
• Ncamagoro, Gcuru, Ncuncuni, Ncaute and elsewhere from 23 to 25 January.
RBS is led by Dr Sindila Mwiya, who in his capacity as project advisor to ReconAfrica, assured farmers at the end of 2020 that “only two wells would be drilled as part of an exploration obligation”. Coincidentally, he is one of the experts who previously had spoken out in favour of the conservation of groundwater in the BGR study (refer list of specialists above).

‘Unconventional exploitation’
ReconAfrica continues to claim that no fracking is planned. However, it repeatedly cites the report by the American specialist consultancy Wood Mackenzie: “Kavango Basin Review & Global Benchmarking – ReconAfrica”, a report that confirms that the Kavango Basin is a Permian basin that can be likened to the Midlands Sedimentary Basin in Texas.
The comparison is interesting because Wood Mackenzie notes the following with reference to the Midland Basin (focus on the occurrence of the so-called Wolfcamp): “The Midland Basin production has had a dual-peak in production, firstly fuelled by conventional plays, and more recently unconventional exploitation.”
In technical jargon, fracking is considered to be “unconventional exploitation”.
The report further states: “The Midland Basin started production in the 1930s. Early production was conventional and peaked in the 1970s, at which time total Texan production comprised around 7% of production globally. Production declined through to the mid 2000’s until the unconventional revolution and the exploitation of the Wolfcamp and Spraberry plays.”
Based on that direct comparison it would seem that ReconAfrica’s vision of producing “billions of barrels” is only realistically achievable and feasible if it uses fracking over the long term, similar to the Midland Basin.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is the process of tearing up rock in a deposit deep underground with the aim of increasing the permeability – an application that is typical of a geological condition as described in the hydrology report.
According to the forum “Environment America”, based on industry and state data, at least 137 000 fracking wells have been drilled or approved in more than 20 states since 2005.”