The Great African Oil and Gas Grab

Over the past decade, there have been substantial discoveries of oil and gas in the Indian Ocean – from South Africa to Somalia. Further exploration is proposed on the west coast of Southern Africa. 

A massive gas condensate discovery off Mossel Bay

In February 2019, French energy conglomerate Total, reported that it had made a significant discovery of gas condensate (a liquid form of natural gas), 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 severe weather, and the dangerous oceanic 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, it eventually struck the gas reserve at over 3 600 metres deep. It is anticipated that the gas field could yield up to one billion barrels of gas.  

Facing up to climate breakdown

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 and restoring our natural carbon sinks (oceans, forests and grasslands), rapidly phasing out fossil fuels, and ensuring the roll-out of clean, renewable energy.

Ignoring reality and pursuing profits at all costs

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 with the era of climate change upon us – and already having devastating consequences in many parts of the world –  tough questions about the future of extractive industries can no longer be avoided. Ignoring reality and carrying on regardless may be politically expedient, 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 abruptly and irrevocably 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.

Ecological impacts

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 not only close to a Marine Protected Area (MPA) but also the newly discovered Secret Reef, a biogenic coral reef structure that is part of the Kingclip Corals, a proposed EBSA (Ecologically or Biologically Significant Area).

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 cause 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.

Dangers of deepwater drilling

Deepwater drilling is a high risk operation and in a harsh, offshore environment, the danger of accidents, spills, fires and ecological disasters increases. 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.

An unfair and discriminatory stakeholder engagement process

For all of the above reasons, environmentalists are opposed to the 11B/12B Exploration Project, which will involve drilling 10 new wells, seismic testing, and controlled source electromagnetic (CSEM) surveys. However, they have been given little opportunity to properly engage with and interrogate the process, which is being pushed through at an unseemly pace, with full advantage being taken of the Covid-19 restrictions to eliminate meaningful community participation. SLR Consulting stated that the deadline to register as an Interested and Affected Party (IA&P) and participate in an online stakeholder engagement webinar on 16 July, was 25 June 2020. Civil society – including NGOs, research, conservation and community groups – have strongly objected to this rushed and illusory show of public participation. Those who managed to take part in the Webinar on 16 July have also roundly condemned the manner in which this so-called consultation took place.

See: Statement by groundWork (Friends of the Earth SA) issued Friday, 18th July 2020. Oceans Not Oil commented: "Just how fair and non-discriminatory was SLR’s stakeholder engagement meeting for Total’s second round of 10 proposed drill wells on the South Coast in Block 11B/12B? It was online – to join you needed a device, wifi and 207 MB of data just to load the webinar app. The entire meeting was in English for complex technical discussion, and the public was on mute. With added load-shedding, many more were excluded from this process. Hard copy notices were not posted in public libraries and SLR did not include the site notices or radio notices required to notify potentially impacted communities. Civil society, research and conservation groups, NGOs and community groups, including Oceans Not Oil, – have objected to SLR’s unjust and rushed public participation."

Another ten wells …

On 18th July 2020, TEPSA confirmed it is in the process of applying for Environmental Authorisation to extend exploration activities in Block 11B/12B and drill up to another ten wells in the eastern portion of the block. 

Environmental groups & organisations opposing the Brulpadda Block 11B/12B project  
groundWork  S.D.C.E.AFrack Free SA  The Green Connection  Coastwatch KZN  WESSA KZN  Oceans Not Oil  Wildoceanssa  

NOTE: As a result of the objections detailed above, the opportunity to comment on the Total E&P South Africa (TEPSA) Additional Exploration Activities in Block 11B/12B Draft Scoping Report was extended by 30 days to 21 August 2020.

To register as an IA&P in the Proposed 11B/12B Exploration Project
Contact SLR Consulting 
Candice Sadan Email: Tel: 021 461 1118 
View Draft Scoping Report on the SLR Consulting website:
Submit written comments by email to: by 21th August 2020 

More information (click on links to read full articles)

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" 

Undemocratic push for expansion of petroleum oil and gas during lockdown – The virtual walk out! 
On the 6th May 2020 groundWork together with the South Durban Community Environment al Alliance ( SDCEA), Enviros, Earthlife Africa, Support Centre for Land Change (SCLC), Oceans Not Oil (ONO) and Frack Free SA raised objections to the exclusionary consultative processes of the Draft Upstream Petroleum Bill conducted by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE)’s Planning Committee.  A virtual walkout took place on the grounds that such process leaves behind communities across the country that are complying with lockdown restrictions, many without the privileges of telecommunications proposed by the DMRE for consultation.

Scoping: Integrated Environmental Management Information Series
This document has been written for a wide audience to serve as an initial reference text on the scoping phase of the environmental assessment process. It includes a definition of scoping and an overview of its purpose and various methods available.

Total Game Changer or Just Hot Air? The Discovery of Gas off South Africa’s Southern Coast
A brief report that critically evaluates claims that the Brulpadda oil and gas project is a game-changer for South Africa. It also assesses the likely environmental effects of the find in terms of local environmental impacts and the wider implications for climate change. In addition, it asks whether this find will really play a significant role in addressing South Africa’s socio-economic challenges. 

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.

Odfjell’s rig sails towards South Africa to resume drilling at Block 11B/12B
Total awards Block 11B/12B drilling contract in South Africa to Odfjell Drilling
Total to spud Luiperd-1 in Block 11B/12B, offshore South Africa
Total looks to South Africa for offshore frontier opportunities 
State plan to allow drilling off KZN coast to be further delayed as activists fight back
A large spill or blowout would have major consequences for the marine environment

Oil and gas exploration in Africa 

Gas Rush, Human Rights Abuses, Climate Devastation, Insurgent Attacks, Covid Hotspot 
"Like all extractive industries, gas extraction in Mozambique is fuelling human rights abuses, poverty, corruption, violence and social injustice. It will have severe consequences for a country already vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as the two catastrophic cyclones in 2019. Currently the sovereignty of Mozambique depends, not on the peoples of Mozambique, but on investors and other states. With internationalist solidarity, we can fight to redress this wrong: Stop companies from signing exploration and concession contracts; stop financiers from investing; stop transnational corporations and countries from the Global North dictating Mozambique’s reliance on fossil fuels; stop local communities from losing their homes, territories, lands and livelihoods. 

Mozambique’s current development pathway of fossil fuel exploitation is resulting in the loss of communities’ livelihoods, human rights abuses, the destruction of the environment and exacerbation of the climate crisis. This is why JA! (Justiça Ambiental / Friends of the Earth Mozambique) and Friends of the Earth International are asking for support from our friends around the world. So far 150 trillion cubic feet of gas has been discovered off the coast of Cabo Delgado. Industry players include fossil fuel giants Eni, Total, Anadarko, Shell, ExxonMobil, Galp, Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, Bharat Petroleum, Korea Gas Corporation and Mitsui/JOGMEC, among others. The construction of onshore facilities to support the planned offshore gas extraction is impoverishing rural farming and fishing communities. Now the gas industry has made Cabo Delgado the COVID-19 hotspot in Mozambique ...:" Read full article

See also 
Total signs $14.9 billion debt financing for huge Mozambique liquefied natural gas project 
East Africa Continues To Develop As An Important Gas Hub
Indian Ocean oil and gas: Africa’s next energy frontier 
Kenya and Somalia’s Long-Simmering Territorial Dispute Threatens to Boil Over
The African Nation That Can’t Get Its Energy Industry Off The Ground
Total writes off $9.3-billion in oil sands assets to increase its focus in Africa Brazil and the Middle East 
5 African oil & gas stories to watch in 2020. A new decade rich in promise for African oil & gas is dawning
South Africa and its neighbours are the focus of our next African oil & gas project watch
Mineral & Petroleum Extraction – Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) 

Further reading
60% of fish species unable to survive 
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

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)

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.