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Angolan MPs give green light to exploration work in onshore basins

Angola hopes to assess the potential of the Kassanje and Etosha/Okavango basins
Angola hopes to assess the potential of the Kassanje and Etosha/Okavango basins

Members of Angola’s National Assembly have voted to lift a ban on oil and gas exploration in two environmentally sensitive onshore basins.

Legislators took this step last week, after President João Lourenço suggested amending the relevant laws to permit exploration work to go forward in the Kassanje and Etosha/Okavango basins. This proposal has stirred up some controversy, as some of the areas that will be opened up for exploration lie within protected national reserves.

According to Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Diamantino Azevedo, the change is not expected to have a major environmental impact on the basins, as exploration activities will only be carried out in a relatively small area. The amendment opens up no more than 5% of the land area of these basins to exploration, and future drilling sites are not likely to account for 3% of the total, he stated.

Azevedo also pointed out that Angola would not be the first country to permit exploration and drilling in protected areas. Gabon, Norway and the US have done the same, he said, adding: “What we’re doing is not unheard of.”

He went on to say that exploration had the potential to benefit these protected areas, as well as local communities within the Kassanje and Etosha/Okavango basins. If commercial reserves of oil or gas are found, they can generate revenues for local use, he told legislators.

Eufrazina Paiva, an environmental activist based in Luanda, has been critical of the government’s plans for exploring the onshore basins. She was quoted by the Bloomberg agency as saying last week that moving forward with exploration might cause Angola to violate international agreements, since it uses donor funding to cover the cost of habitat protection campaigns.

Minister of Social Communications Nuno Caldas Albino has said, though, that the government intends to uphold its commitment to the protection of sensitive habitats.

Angola’s National Agency for Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels (ANPG) divulged its plans for exploration of these onshore areas earlier this month. The agency has called a limited public tender inviting domestic contractors to bid for the right to study the environmental impact of the project and subsequent restoration and restocking efforts in the Kassanje and Etosha/Okavango basins.