Safeguard the Future and Protect Life! Stop Oil and Gas Exploration

In February 2019, French energy conglomerate Total reported a significant gas condensate discovery 175 km off Mossel Bay on the southern coast of South Africa in the Outeniqua Basin. The gas field, called Brulpadda Block 11B/12B, spans an area of 19 000 km² with water depths of 200 to 1 800 metres. Total’s first attempt to drill the Brulpadda 1AX well in 2014 was suspended due to the severe weather conditions caused by the confluence of the Agulhas and Benguela currents. Total resumed drilling in December 2018, using a specialised rig to withstand the strong currents, and struck the gas reserve at over 3 600 metres deep. Total anticipates that the gas field could yield up to one billion barrels of gas. In effect, gas condensate is a liquid form of natural gas.

Environmentalists are gearing up to comment on the Total E&P South Africa (TEPSA) Additional Exploration Activities in Block 11B/12B Draft Scoping Report. (See SLR Consulting website) This will involve drilling 10 new wells, seismic testing, and controlled source electromagnetic (CSEM) surveys. The Brulpadda deepwater find is being hyped as the energy discovery that could help transform the South African economy and act as a ‘bridge fuel’ to wean the country off its dependence on coal power. However, the expansion of any form of hydrocarbon resource, faced as we are with catastrophic climate breakdown, is unconscionable. 2019 was a year of record extreme weather and 2020 – in addition to the dire circumstances created by the global Covid-19 pandemic – is looking set to break further records. It is vital that we limit global temperature rises to the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. This means protecting our natural carbon sinks (oceans, forests and grasslands), rapidly phasing out fossil fuels, and ensuring the roll-out of clean renewable energy.

It is also short-sighted to be pushing ahead with oil and gas exploration when globally, the industry is experiencing major challenges. Due to the pandemic, there has been a decline in global demand and in the era of climate change, questions about the future of the extractive industry can no longer be avoided. Ignoring reality and carrying on regardless may serve narrow, vested interests and appear to work in the short term, but it is not a sustainable economic strategy in the longer term. The pandemic has given us a glimpse of how suddenly and harshly things can change. It should be seen as an opportunity to undertake what has to be done in order to implement a Just Transition to a green economy that will create green jobs and safeguard the future for our children.

In addition to climate denial, little account is being taken in respect of the environmental impacts and high risks of being situated in an area notorious for the severity of its weather, and where 30 metre waves are capable of sinking even large ships. This dynamic ocean system also contributes to the high biodiversity of South Africa’s marine ecosystems and the exploration site is close to a Marine Protected Area (MPA). Studies have shown that seismic surveys increase noise levels to twice the normal level and severely impact marine life. Indeed, more and more scientists agree that such surveys disturb the communication, navigation and eating habits essential to the survival of marine life. These sonic waves can also damage fish with air bladders, destroy marine wildlife eggs and larvae, and incite fish and other marine species to migrate from the affected area. This inevitably threatens the health of regional fisheries and risks the livelihoods of those who depend on the ocean for their survival.

In the event of an industrial disaster or damage due to a weather related event, gas condensate contains toxicants which are harmful to the environment, animals and humans. It is generally more flammable and explosive than normal crude oil. Operating in areas where condensate has escaped is hazardous for crew due to the danger of explosions, oxygen displacement and the threat of asphyxiation or anaesthetization, which can occur within minutes. Whether escaped condensate causes an oil spill or not depends on whether it has vaporised, burnt off, or escaped in liquid form. When a spill occurs, it is considered to be dangerous due to its toxicity and because it is difficult to contain and manage.

TO REGISTER YOUR INTEREST IN THE PROPOSED 11B/12B EXPLORATION PROJECT: Contact SLR Consulting, Candice Sadan Email: Tel: 021 461 1118. The Draft Scoping Report is available for public review on the SLR website: To submit written comments, email: by 20th July 2020 All issues and concerns will be individually addressed in the Comments and Responses Report that will be attached to the Final Scoping Report which will be submitted to The Petroleum Agency SA (PASA) as a basis for obtaining acceptance to proceed to the ESIA Phase.

Further reading and information

60% of fish species could be unable to survive in current areas by 2100 Sixty per cent of studied fish species will be unable to survive in their current ranges by 2100 if climate warming reaches a worst-case scenario of 4-5C (7.2-9F) above pre-industrial temperatures, researchers have found. In a study of nearly 700 fresh and saltwater fish species, researchers examined how warming water temperatures lower water oxygen levels, putting embryos and pregnant See study

Plan to drill offshore near Mossel Bay must be stopped – Frack Free SA Frack Free SA is an organisation powered by volunteers that “opposes, on ecological, health, social, and economic grounds, the use of fracking or other techniques to recover unconventional gas” according to their website. The organisation said: “This area is where the warm and cold currents meet, a sensitive and biodiverse ecotone. It is fundamental to the marine biodiversity of our coastline" 

Offshore drilling has dug itself a deeper hole since Deepwater Horizon Ever since the first oil well was built in the Gulf of Mexico in 14 feet of water in 1938, technology advancements made it easier to move farther away from shore in pursuit of new oil reserves, at times without a plan for worst-case scenarios. Just one year before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig became the site of the most devastating oil spill in American history, it succeeded in drilling what was the deepest oil and gas well ever at the time. The rig bored through more than 35000 ft (10668 meters) of ocean floor while working in waters more than 4130 ft deep (1259 metres)

Government creates 20 new marine protected areas, giving legal protection to 5% of SA marine environment Around 95% of South Africa’s marine environment has been leased for offshore oil and gas. The possibility of bulk marine sediment mining poses a considerable threat to offshore environments. Rights have been granted for a range of other extractive practices, including coastal and offshore mineral sand mining and unconventional gas exploration such as marine fracking. Against that background, the new marine protected area network will provide some refuge for marine species and ecosystems from the destructive impacts of marine petroleum and mineral extraction.

The impact of Covid-19 on oil and gas producers in developing countries The crisis could also become a moment for transition towards green solutions. The international oil companies (IOCs) are, somewhat controversially, facing huge pressure to cut emissions with Shell committing to zero carbon emissions by 2050 … There is already some evidence that the relative absence of strong vested interests in Kenya’s carbon economy is enabling it to move more rapidly to adopt greener energy solutions than in Ghana, where organisational and financial interests around fossil fuels are stronger and more embedded …

Corporations as private sovereign powers. The case of Total Total is a corporate group headquartered in France, with operations in 130 countries, 100 000 employees and 'collaborators', and a daily production of the equivalent of 2.8 million barrels of oil. In 2018, Total reported net profits of $13.6 billion. This energy giant, the world’s fifth-largest oil company which has been around for almost a century, merits attention in view of the fact that it has been the subject of very little analysis, despite its shocking track record in human rights, the environment, public health and business ethics.