Malawi govt to stop oil drilling if lake is threatened


Energy and Mining Minister Cassim Chilumpha has said government would halt drilling and extraction of oil in Lake Malawi if an environmental impact assessment study found that the lake would be destroyed and livelihoods would be disrupted.

He said the environmental impact assessment would involve interaction with communities surrounding the lake to see to what degree their lives would be interrupted and whether the lake would be annihilated.

“Let me emphasise the fact that we are very far of from the actual drilling and the extraction of oil from oil from Lake Malawi,” he told BBC’s News Day programme recently. “If it comes, for example, to the point where having done the environmental assessment it is very clear that the whole lake would be destroyed, all livelihoods would disappear, communities would be disrupted, that’s not a cost that Malawi is prepared to incur.”

Chilumpha, however, said Malawi “is very excited” about the discovery of oil underneath Lake Malawi. He said government has since awarded two licences for exploration to a British company, Surestream.

“We also hope in the very near future to award three more licences for exploration of oil in the lake,” he said. “It will be a very happy discovery if we can find these liquid minerals under the lake because then a number of the economic and financial challenges that Malawi currently faces will be easier to handle.”

The minister was nonetheless quick to say that despite government’s excitement over the possible availability of oil in Lake Malawi it would not rush into drilling or extraction without an exhaustive environment impact assessment study.

“Legally, it’s a requirement, there is no way you can drill or carry out any mining activity in this country without first and foremost carrying out an environmental assessment of the likely impact of that exercise,” he said.

Chilumpha also said it has just been discovered that Malawi has substantial reserves of rare earth.

“The discovery of rare earth is very exciting because, by its very name, the application is very wide; it’s opening up a whole new range of possibilities in the world right now,” he said.

Rare earth metals are used in the assembly of hybrid cars, television sets and other electronic gadgets. Chilumpha said about 30 million metric tonnes of rare earth deposits have discovered from a small area that has been explored so far.

“So we infer from what we are seeing now that we are talking about a resource that extends much much further than the figure I have given. We estimate that after the full exploration has been done we are talking about a mine life of 40 to 50 years to come,” he said.

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