Malawi hopes of scoring the jackpot on oil that is said to be in lake Malawi will have to wait for another ten years according to Surestream, the British company exploring oil on the lake.
Surestream’s general manager Keith Robinson said in an interview with the nation that Oil exploration is a very complicated process and normally takes over five years.
“We know Lake Malawi has a unique ecosystem that we need to study so that the drilling exercise does not damage it.
“We are optimistic that there is oil in the lake judging from significant commercial discoveries in the rift valley such as Lake Albert in Rwanda,” said Robinson.
Surestream Company is working hand in hand with six scientists from Chancellor College who are mainly helping with research on the lake’s ecosystem.
“We know that local experts know their surrounding well, hence, their involvement,” he said.
Robinson said later in the year, they will engage fishermen from Karonga and Nkhotakota to share their experiences and advise how fish can be protected in the lake.
“This is a huge investment and we want Malawians to support it because once oil is found, the economy of the country will improve,” he said.
Malawi has, in the past few years, begun looking at mining and oil exploration. New mining projects in the country include uranium extraction — Australian multinational, Paladin Energy is already mining in Karonga, a district by the western shore of Lake Malawi; rare earth metal exploration — the government has granted five exploration licenses in the past three years; and now, oil exploration in Lake Malawi itself.
President Bingu wa Mutharika believes oil extraction and metals mining would solve the country’s fuel shortage problems and help it tide over the current economic crisis in Malawi. But the spate of prospecting licenses been given out by the government isn’t sitting too well with local environmentalists and fishermen. They worry that local communities, especially fishing communities, will lose out because the projects, especially the ones close to or in Lake Malawi, would impact the lake’s ecosystem and affect fish populations.
However ,Surestream Petroleum has been quick to claim that its operations won’t damage Lake Malawi. The exploration “will involve local biologists, scientists, zoologists and petroleum geologists, international and local independent economists who will carry out the EIA,” company general Manager for Malawi Keith Robinson said in January. But his assurance has failed to convince most environmentalists, including some within the government itself.
Drilling in the lake will not only damage eco-tourism but also the marine environment, says the country’s tourism director, Isaac Katopola. He pointed out that Sunstream’s operations would affect the districts of Karonga, Rumphi and Nkhata Bay — all fishing regions — and would endanger the social and economic lives of millions of people. Katopola expressed regret at the venture would deny local communities their livelihoods.
“The problem we have in Malawi is that law enforcement is a problem and this is the reason why environmental problems are on the increase,” says Reginald Mumba of Rehabilitation of the Environment, a local environmental nonprofit. “If we can only empower the local communities to manage their resources then they will benefit. But in this situation the communities have no say and the politicians just impose issues on them.”
Recently Kenya has also discovered oil in the northern part of the country, where British multinational Tullow Oil has been doing exploratory drilling for years.
Kenyan president described the discovery as “fantastic” news for Kenya.