Our Burning Planet

OFFSHORE EXPLORATION

Fishers and environmental activists express concern over proposed drilling off SA’s West Coast

Fishers and environmental activists express concern over proposed drilling off SA’s West Coast
Australian company Searcher Geodata is to start a seismic survey about 220km off South Africa’s West Coast in 2024. (Image: Unsplash / Ian Schneider | Rawpixel)

Fishers, environmental activists and ecojustice watchdogs have raised concerns over the exploratory drilling for oil and gas off the West Coast that is scheduled to begin this month.

The Azinam/Eco Atlantic oil rig — which left the North Sea on 12 August  — has arrived on South African shores to begin its exploratory drilling in Block 2B off the West Coast. 

Drilling at Azinam’s proposed offshore exploration well (the Gazania-1) will be conducted in relatively shallow depths of 50m to 200m.    

A veteran small-scale fisher from Port Nolloth, Walter Steenkamp, said he and his fellow fishers are against the exploration.

“We believe that this will cause huge damage in the ocean. We know there is no solution for the damage that will be done when they conduct the seismic survey. The exploration will cause marine destruction and we don’t understand why our government is still continuing with the oil and gas explorations on our ocean,” said Steenkamp.

He said residents of Hondeklipbaai and other areas don’t know about the planned exploration as they were never consulted.

 “We say no to oil and gas exploration because it is dangerous for our fish and water, and it contributes to global warming.

“We believe that our government should do more to educate the affected communities about all the impacts of offshore oil and gas exploration and they definitely need to consult the people before they make decisions that could negatively affect them, but instead it feels like all our government is doing is stripping our land of its minerals and leaving us with nothing but hunger,” said Steenkamp.

Another resident, Andy Pienaar, said there had been no meaningful consultations with communities about the planned exploration.

“We do not want a situation where the developer and the department come to us to feed us with information in the same way the apartheid education system did — just enough to say they did inform us,” said Pienaar. 

“Only half the impact of the drilling and further seismic testing has been communicated to us and we demand the full assessment. This activity, together with other planned projects like coffer dams, underwater mining and the expansion of the nuclear industry, spells the end of our relationship with the ocean. 

“It is an understatement that we believe that drilling will not only threaten a great deal of the sea life in the area but also that it will contribute to the extinction thereof. A go-ahead for the drilling in Block 2B will set a precedent for other similar projects in the area in which there is now a high level of interest,” said Pienaar.

He said they were concerned by the utterances of the minister, who, he said, wants them to betray their birthright for a project that largely won’t benefit them.

The Green Connection’s strategic lead, Liziwe McDaid, said an oil spill contingency plan (OSCP) in respect of the proposed exploratory drilling was a central mitigation measure proposed in the final environmental impact report. 

“The report also acknowledges that the greatest potential risk associated with oil and gas exploration are oil spills and well blowouts — which would have a devastating impact on the oceans and coasts and would directly affect the welfare and livelihoods of coastal communities and small-scale fishers. 

“However, it should be noted that this OSCP was not subject to public participation during the environmental impact assessment process, and we understand, only submitted to the relevant authorities recently,” said McDaid.


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Contentious issue

The Green Connection’s Neville van Rooy said the question of whether to exploit our oceans and natural environment for fossil fuel profits, while simultaneously ignoring the many livelihoods that depend on it as well as ignoring the climate crisis, had become a contentious issue.

“In a country that is struggling to cope with rising unemployment, and which is bearing the brunt of climate change, South Africa should make a more concerted effort to move toward the just transition,” he said. 

The Green Connection said it had tried unsuccessfully for months to obtain  the oil spill contingency plan for the drilling operation off Hondeklipbaai from Azinam consultants and lawyers. The ecojustice organisation eventually approached the Petroleum Agency SA, which provided the plan on Tuesday.

Eco Atlantic said it acquired Azinam South Africa early in 2022 and with that acquisition came a 50% working interest in Block 2B, which is located in the Orange Basin and covers 3,062 sq km off the West Coast.  

Eco Atlantic told Our Burning Planet: “Public participation processes were undertaken in accordance with the provisions of the National Environmental Management Act and the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.

“In the first half of 2022, as part of its environmental and social governance strategy, the company undertook additional public information-sharing sessions by meeting with regional community members, organisations and area representatives to discuss the exploration activities undertaken to date, including the upcoming plans for exploration drilling.”

Eco Atlantic said regional leaders, fishing community associations and cooperatives, local businesses and the general public were all notified about the meetings, which were well attended. 

“NGO organisations were also invited to discussions. The company has strived and successfully communicated information on the projects and maintained transparency directly with the community stakeholders. 

“The company and community stakeholders had an excellent opportunity through multiple meetings and an area workshop on the objectives of the drilling programme, including the environmental controls in place and the oil spill contingency plan. The company brought in independent environmental specialists to discuss the fishing impacts, timing, migration depth and regional fishing operations.  

“A successful outcome at the Gazania-1 well will give South Africa access to its own hydrocarbon resources to decide how it can support the country with the next phase of its energy transition,” said Eco Atlantic. DM/OBP

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