Unearthed: Fracking in Botswana National Parks

Signal of change / Unearthed: Fracking in Botswana National Parks

By Kirsten Zeller / 12 Jan 2016

It has been brought to light that yet another national park in Botswana has been licensed for fracking rights. In December of 2015 the Guardian unearthed that more than half of the nearly 40,000 square kilometres of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana, which spans across the South African border, was carved up into drilling licenses by government officials and sold to Karoo Energy, a British company. These sales were made in September 2014 but were not declared until April, 2015 by Karoo Energy, who changed their name from Nodding Donkey. Neither the South African tourism park manager nor the Botswana park manager were aware of the deal.

This news follows the 2014 discovery that the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Chobe National Park, home to of the largest herd of elephants in the world, had been auctioned off for fracking development behind closed doors in 2013. A documentary released in November 2014 called High Cost of Cheap Gas, funded by Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), exposed the previously concealed concessions made by the government of Botswana permitting drilling in the protected territories. Prior to the release of this footage, the government of Botswana had denied all allegations of authorising fracking explorations.

Despite being caught red handed, government authorities failed to disclose that rights to yet another territory, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, had been sold as well. This news signals that oil and gas industries are invading some of the most remote, nature-rich landscapes in the world which were previously reserved for indigenous populations, wildlife and tourism.

So what?

In neighbouring South Africa, where fracking pursuits are also underway, the public has been sold the promise of job creation and improved living standards. Unfortunately, information on the accompanied costs and risks has been scarce in the region. Not only are immense volumes of water required to tear the ground asunder for extraction, but released fossil fuels threaten to pollute surrounding fresh water resources. Both Botswana and South Africa are water scarce countries.

Tourism in Botswana is the second largest sector, and growing, accounting for over 30,000 jobs. Landscapes previously teeming with flora and fauna may be rendered uninhabitable by fracking pollutants. The migration route of the largest elephant herd in the world lies in Botswana. This path is sewn together by a web of sweet water desert sources scattered across the parks being drilled. Fracking has additionally been found to trigger a higher incidence and severity of earthquakes.

It is worth considering the economic case for one of the poorest regions in the world to benefit from shale gas explorations: who would be gaining and at what cost? Research indicates that although regulatory bodies in Botswana and South Africa are charging rents on fracking rights, they lack the capacity to undertake the necessary monitoring to safeguard extraction practices. Furthermore, the communication and collaboration with lower levels of government and communities was found to be marginal. This suggests that potential “beneficiaries” have largely been shut out of the discussion.

Fracking explorations may also come at the cost of investing in cleaner and less invasive energy industries, such as wind and solar which have a promising future in Africa. Despite terrific prospects for clean energy development in Africa, and elsewhere, cases such as this one marks a significant setback in the transition to green energy. 


African Business Magazine. (December 4th, 2015). Africa's Future is Clean Energy.

Alliance Earth. (2013). The High Cost Of Cheap Gas - Documentary Film.

Corrigan, C. & Murtazashvili, I. (2015). Governance of Fracking in Africa. Governance In Africa, 2(1).http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/gia.aj

InvestEgate. (April 30th, 2016). Nodding Donkey Plc | Unaudited Final Results.

ISS Africa. (December 6th, 2013). Fracking for shale gas in South Africa: blessing or curse?.

MintPress News. (September 5th, 2013). Study: Fracking Waste Poses Severe Threat To Wildlife.

Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA). (November 21st, 2013). Botswana government admits to fracking.

The Guardian. (November 18th, 2013). Botswana faces questions over licences for fracking companies in Kalahari.

The Guardian. (December 2nd, 2015). Botswana sells fracking rights in national park.

The New Yorker. (April 13th, 2015). The Arrival of Man-Made Earthquakes.

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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