Angola can balance environmental protections with ongoing hydrocarbon exploration, in line with its constitution, writes Verner Ayukegba, Senior Vice-President at the African Energy Chamber.
In January 2021, reports that Angola was drafting legislation to permit oil, gas and mining activities in 14 national conservation areas, including the Luengue-Luiana National Park, which represents part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area stretching across Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe led to protests by environmentalist groups.
The move outraged local environmentalists. They were likely wary of test drilling that had begun days earlier on the Namibian side of the Okavango Delta, an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot.
On January 21, Angola’s Minister of Mineral Resources, Petroleum and Gas HE Diamantino Pedro Azevedo responded. The minister clarified that Angola’s upcoming public tender for several onshore basins would comply with stringent environmental legislation and that the interests of local populations would be safeguarded.
Angola’s industry regulator, the Agência Nacional de Petróleo, Gás e Biocombustíveis (ANPG), has also provided further clarifications
Striking a balance
“It was necessary to review the legislation on protected areas, but this does not mean the end of biodiversity,” said Azevedo. “There is a need to explore these resources – the solution is balance. We are sensitive to environmental issues, but we are also rational. There are those who, for political interests, defend extreme positions, but it is necessary in politics to be rational.”
Angola, sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer, has taken one of the most balanced approaches to global Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards in the region when it comes to oil and gas exploration. This places environmental protections and continued hydrocarbon production on equal footing within its constitution and national agenda.
Articles 12 and 24 in the country’s 2010 constitution explicitly outlines protection for the environment, providing a basis for the country’s Environmental Framework Act. According to Article 12, “The State shall promote the protection and conservation of natural resources guiding the exploitation and use thereof for the benefit of the community as a whole.”
Article 24 states: “All citizens shall have the right to live in a healthy and unpolluted environment. The State shall take the requisite measures to protect the environment and national species of flora and fauna throughout the national territory and maintain ecological balance. Acts that damage or directly or indirectly jeopardise conservation of the environment shall be punishable by law.”
Offshore exploration, especially during the boom years of 2002 to 2008 made Angola one of the most prized destinations for the industry. Output rose to nearly 2 million barrels per day, providing Angola with much needed resources for its post-conflict reconstruction.
These boom years were only possible because Angola provided, and continues to provide, an environmental framework that is second to none globally.
Companies working on exploration in Angola adhere to the highest environmental standards.
Angola’s regulator, the ANPG, mandates that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) plans are of the highest industry standards, when compared to other basins such as Brazil and Mexico.
In Angola, these assessments have to comply with a plethora of decrees and regulations. These include mandatory public consultations, environmental auditing, restrictions on biodiversity, water and waste management. It is worth mentioning that no major environmental disasters have been registered.
Further, some of the new technologies and exploration techniques developed in Angola under these stringent regulations have been exported to other basins for the betterment of the entire industry.
The two sedimentary inner basins of Kassanje and Etosha/Okavango cover around 520,000 square km. Of this, only 20% are in protected areas. As little as 5% of protected areas are being considered for responsible exploration and production activities. This will only follow the completion of environmental due diligence.
Yes – the proposed law will have implications for protected areas. The law intends to further ensure their protection while advancing oil and gas activity in the country. It will see this done in a responsible manner and in accordance with Angola’s constitution.
The EIA – carried out in coordination with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Environment – aims to ensure that Angola’s rich biodiversity is protected.
By identifying and assessing the impact of potential projects on the given ecosystem, as well as presenting appropriate mitigation measures, the EIA serves as a tool for making environmentally informed decisions regarding the division, allocation and development of resource-rich basins.
Furthermore, the ANPG will prioritise exploration activities in areas outside environmental protection zones. Companies will only carry out drilling if the regulator finds no, or minimal impact, to the ecosystem.
It is worth noting that surface samples of crude oil and gas have been already collected in certain parts of the inner basins of Kassanje and Etosha/Okavango, in which there is a high probability that hydrocarbons are present.
To deny the acquisition of further geological knowledge of the area not only erodes the basic tenet of resource sovereignty – that each state has the right to know of the existing resources in its territory – but also attempts to make a unilateral decision on behalf of the wider population.
The foundation for the draft legislation has been laid in both the National Development Plan 2018-2022 and revised Hydrocarbon Exploration Strategy 2020-2025 – authorised by Presidential Decree 282/20. This seeks to intensify, research and geologically evaluate concessions and free areas of sedimentary basins.
In this respect, Angola’s regulator is ensuring stability and transparency. Angola’s approach contrasts with other major hydrocarbon producers, where regulation is politically driven and does not always ensure environmental considerations.
For example, former US President Donald Trump authorised the lease to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – 1,790 square km of protected ecosystem in Alaska – two weeks before leaving office. Newly elected President Joe Biden countered with an immediate moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land.
Angola is working on a long-term, institutional framework that provides for environmental considerations and ensures that hydrocarbon exploration is executed in a socially responsible manner as it happens, when it happens.
Given the growing role of ESG criteria in reducing risk and attracting global investors – coupled with rising pressure on energy firms to “green” their portfolios – oil and gas multinationals and Angola’s ANPG are acutely aware of the implications of fossil fuel investments for both their firms and the country.
As a result, the ANPG, under the leadership of industry veteran Paulino Jerónimo, and multinationals have strengthened their commitment to ensure environmental due diligence, conducting impact assessments, implementing stricter environmental preservation measures and preventing or eliminating oil spills, water pollution, carbon emissions and habitat disruption associated with oil and gas drilling.
In other words, the decision to develop any acreage will not be taken lightly. Nor will Angola pursue any development without taking into consideration local community interests and the environmental impact of such a development.