The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, one of the largest and wildest conservation areas in Africa, may soon be the site of drilling rigs. The government of Botswana has reportedly sold rights to explore for natural gas in more than half of the 37,000 sq km park that straddles the border between Botswana and South Africa, according to a new documentary, The High Cost of Cheap Gas.
According to the report, the government sold prospecting licenses in 2014 to a UK-listed company named Nodding Donkey. (The company has since changed its name to Karoo Energy.) In its results released in April, the company said it had been issued three exploration licenses valid for four years for land that could hold shale gas, including 29,291 sq km in the Kgalagadi district. Local conservationists and park officials told The Guardian that they were not consulted and that no drilling has taken place. The park, home to gembook, eland, black-maned lions, and over 200 species of birds, is one of few conservation areas of its size left on the continent.
Botswana’s Kalahari Karoo basin and the Kgalagadi desert are home to unknown quantities of natural gas. In 2013, the government granted prospecting licenses in the Kalahari reserve, the world’s second largest game reserve, to two companies. But no mining licenses have yet been given. “While concessions for energy prospecting have indeed been granted over wide areas of the country, there are currently no mining licenses for gas extraction … And thus no commercial production involving so-called fracking,” Botswana’s environment and mineral ministries said in a statement in February.
Botswana suffers from water and electricity shortages. Falling demand for its diamonds has almost halved its projected economic growth for the year to 2.6% from the original target of 4.9%.