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Malawi to Hold Public Hearings on Oil Exploration on Disputed Lake

LILONGWE, Malawi

The Malawian government plans to hold public hearings on an environmental and social impact assessment report by UK-based Surestream Petroleum on its proposed oil exploration on Lake Malawi.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change said in a statement last week that the public hearings will be conducted in seven districts -- Karonga, Rumphi, Mzuzu, Nkhata Bay, Nkhota Kota, Lilongwe and Blantyre -- between January 20th and 29th.

“These public hearings will give local Malawians a chance to offer their views on the environmental and social impact assessment report by Surestream Petroleum Ltd.,” Environmental Affairs and Climate Change Principal Secretary Yanira Mtupanyama said on January 15.

She said the Surestream report, which has not yet been made public in Malawi, explains the environmental restoration measures the British petroleum company will put in place to protect aquatic life in Lake Malawi.

Surestream will soon carry out seismic operations, using a boat and aircraft, to search for oil on the lake, Mtupanyama said.

“The data captured by the boat and aircraft will then be used to determine the amounts of oil reserves available in Lake Malawi and how extraction can be done,” she added.

Malawi is currently locked in a dispute with neighboring Tanzania over ownership of Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Forum of Former Heads of State is mediating in the long-running territorial dispute. The forum, chaired by former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano, has yet to identify a resolution on the issue.

Tensions over the lake resurfaced in October 2011, when Malawi first granted Surestream a license to explore for oil and gas deposits on the water body. The Tanzanian government said it should have been consulted first.

“Malawi claims that the whole lake belongs to the country according to colonial boundaries … But our stated position is that half of the lake belongs to Tanzania,” said Assah Mwambene, a spokesperson for Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Tanzanian Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe had warned his Malawian counterpart, Ephraim Mganda Chiume, that continued oil exploration on the disputed lake could have a negative effect on negotiations between the two countries.

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