Civil Society’s appeal against oil and gas exploration along KZN coast dismissed

The formal appeal by a civil society coalition of 47 individuals and environmental organisations, to stop oil and gas exploration along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, has been dismissed by Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs. The appeal was originally submitted in November 2019 after the Dept. of Mineral Resources’ (DMR) decision to grant environmental authorisation to Italian energy group Eni and Sasol Africa. The project will cover an offshore area of more than 4600 km² from northern to southern KZN, and will allow Eni to drill, at its closest point, 62 km from the shoreline and at depths of around 4 km.

Oil and gas exploration involves seismic surveys that disturb the communication, navigation and eating habits essential to the survival of marine wildlife. 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 away from the affected area. These impacts, which affect both ocean ecosystems and local communities – as well as the stark reality of looming climate catastrophe – are being blatantly ignored by the government and these giant, profit-seeking fossil fuel companies. These projects arise from the government’s Operation Phakisa (hurry up) programme, which aims to unlock the economic potential of South Africa’s oceans by promoting various commercial activities, including gas and oil extraction.

Sasol was originally granted exploration rights by the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) in 2013, and then brought in Eni as a partner. However, due to a groundswell of objections during the public consultation hearings, environmental authorisation was repeatedly withheld and the department faced a backlash from environmental organisations including leading marine scientists who said there was a failure to adequately assess socio-economic impacts, as well as inadequate public participation. Other concerns raised included the high levels of pollution caused by drilling operations, seabed and marine habitat destruction, significant impacts on the commercial fishing industry and adverse effects on marine life, including whales and dolphins.

A previous scoping report stated that air emissions containing carbon dioxide, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and associated volatile organic compounds could result in a short-term localised increase in pollutant concentrations and contribute to regional and global atmospheric pollution.  S.D.C.E.A. (South Durban Community Environmental Alliance), which has been leading the environmental coalition, also said any drilling would be in conflict with South Africa working to reduce its carbon footprint in line with the Paris Agreement: “For the department of minerals to proceed with this application while understanding the science of global warming, is reckless and ill conceived.” – Desmond D’Sa (SDCEA)

Currently, Sasol pipes gas to South Africa from its Pande and Temane gas fields in southern Mozambique. However, the South African government is intent on establishing a significant gas sector of its own to secure a stable, cheaper and (in its view) cleaner energy mix. The significance of gas as an energy source is revealed in the updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which outlines the country’s proposed energy mix. According to the IRP, government has taken a policy position to “support the development of gas infrastructure and convert all diesel-fired power plants to gas”.

Desmond D’Sa argues that in view of the inhospitable character of South Africa’s offshore sea, together with increasing cyclonic disturbances associated with climate change, the hazards of operating an offshore drilling rig in KZN’s sea are exceptionally high. The coalition’s appeal made a detailed case against the proposed drilling, including the claim that Eni’s EIA contains a “legally flawed assessment of risk and impacts of a catastrophic oil spill,” and that the EIA report was “fatally flawed because it failed to adequately assess socioeconomic impacts.”

Now that the appeal has been dismissed, this gives the green light for Total to push ahead with its second gas condensate discovery, the Luiperd prospect located on Block 11B/12B in the Outeniqua Basin 175 kms off the southern Cape coast.  In addition, after losing the anti-fracking fight in 2019 to farmers in KZN, Rhino Oil and Gas have applied again for a new Exploration Right (350 ER) in the Free State and KwaZulu Natal. This covers an area extending from the Upper Tugela region to Warden and includes 4370 farms in Harrismith, Kestell, Bethlehem, Reitz and Lindley.

Sources and more information
Activists lobby against oil and gas exploration on KZN coast 
Activists to challenge oil and gas drilling along KZN coast
Activists File Appeal Opposing Exploratory Oil & Gas Drilling Off KZN Coast
Meeting on gas and oil exploration descends into chaos
Rhino Oil and Gas at it again!
Total makes another significant gas discovery near South Africa
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