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Environmental groups lodge appeal after TotalEnergies gets the green light to drill wells off Cape coast

Environmental groups lodge appeal after TotalEnergies gets the green light to drill wells off Cape coast
TotalEnergies head office in La Defense business district near Paris. (Photo: Chesnot / Getty Images)

The EMS Foundation (South) Africa and Climate Justice Charter Movement have appealed against the Department of Environmental Affairs’ decision to grant TotalEnergies the go-ahead to drill exploratory wells off the southwest coast of South Africa.

The EMS Foundation (South) Africa and Climate Justice Charter Movement have lodged an appeal with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) after the department’s decision to grant TotalEnergies an environmental authorisation to drill exploratory wells off the southwest coast of South Africa.

The EMS Foundation, a network of conservation NGOs and one of the appellants, said in a statement:

“We believe that the decisionmaker failed to give adequate consideration to the public comments submitted by the appellant and other I&AP’s (interested and affected parties) during the Public Participation Process. The decisionmaker failed to consider relevant factors and / or considered irrelevant factors when taking its decision contrary to the provision of Section 6(2)(e)(iii) of PAJA (Promotion of Administrative Justice Act). The decision maker’s decision is neither reasonable nor rational.” 

The Wildlife Animal Protection Forum South Africa (WAPFSA) of which the EMS Foundation is a member – submitted comments on the environmental and social impact assessment for the proposed offshore exploration well drilling. 

In it, the forum highlights a number of environmental and social concerns. 

Among them, WAPFSA says: “South Africa has a high dependency on fossil fuels and as a result, is responsible for about 50% of Africa’s GHG emissions. As one of the top 20 global GHG emitters, South Africa will need to make substantial emission cuts. The proposed TEEPSA 5/6/7 project will contribute to further emissions which could exacerbate climate change affecting life on both land and in the ocean; such as increased risks of prolonged droughts in an already drought sensitive region, increased risks of wildfires and coastal systems collapse, climate change-related impacts in the ocean including sea level rise and associated storm swell and change in currents.”

In a statement released toward the end of last year, Patrick Pouyanné, chairman and chief executive officer of TotalEnergies wrote of the company’s activities in South Africa that, “Concerning the project’s contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I would emphasize that this project is expected to supply gas to the South African domestic market.

“South Africa’s economy is still predominantly based on coal, which accounts for 80% of its current electricity generation. Access to energy, and in particular meeting the growing demand for electricity, is a major concern in South Africa, where load shedding and power cuts have been an almost daily occurrence for nearly 15 years and where air pollution from fine particles linked to coal burning is frequent.

“The use of gas to replace coal combustion for electricity generation halves CO2 emissions and drastically reduces air pollution. The atmosphere will benefit from the avoided emissions made possible by this gas development project.”

Daily Maverick recently reported that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s AR6 Synthesis Report found that the multiple and effective solutions that should be taken to curb the effects of the climate crisis should be placed in the mainstream, as these limit destruction to people’s lives and to the planet.

It also notes that projected emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure, without reducing greenhouse gases through technologies such as carbon capture and storage, would exceed the carbon budget we have left to stay below the Paris Agreement’s 1.5℃ limit. 

Limiting the global average temperature increase to below 1.5℃ above pre-industrial era temperatures is essential if we are to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change: rising sea levels, extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity. By staying below this threshold, humanity can reduce the risk of irreversible damage to ecosystems and human societies.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The need for action on the climate crisis is more urgent than previously assessed – IPCC

WAPFSA continues in its submission that, “There are considerable predicted risks of impacts on marine wildlife, habitats, and ecosystems. It is of great concern that the area targeted for drilling encompasses one of the most pristine marine environments in South Africa and globally.

totalenergies

The proposed area for the exploratory drilling (Source: supplied)

“The effects of drilling activities on cetaceans and other mammals and fish include tissue damage; in mammals, behavioural changes could involve changes in time spent at the water’s surface, dive times and energy costs due to having to travel greater distances in an attempt to evade the sound. The stress can change body physiology, affecting growth and reproduction and can even result in death. Migratory patterns of large pelagic fish species, as well as their typical behaviour patterns, stand to be affected by drilling activities. These species include various tuna, billfish and shark species.” 

It concludes that: 

“The current crisis in global energy markets shows that there is absolutely no reason for South Africa to increase its reliance on fossil fuels. Overall fossil gas expansion is inconsistent with the Paris Agreement goals, and as a signatory to the Agreement, South Africa should not undertake any exploration and investment in the development of new gas projects” and “investing in fossil fuels explorations is robbing South Africa of the economic opportunity to change its energy to renewables, including producing green hydrogen with electrolysis from solar and wind resources.” 

Dr Vishwas Satgar, of the Climate Justice Charter Movement (CJCM) and Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Universities South Africa (USAf), an acknowledged academic, intellectual activist and social justice crusader told Daily Maverick that, “these wells are part of extending the minerals and energy complex to the Oceans as part of Operation Phakisa. The government is hell bent on going ahead with offshore oil and gas extraction given the Eskom crisis that they have created but also given the resources they think can be generated from this. They are disrespecting climate science and are not serious about accelerating the deep just transition.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: AR6 synthesis report: Warming above 1.5℃ is likely in the near term unless the world acts now, says the UN

“We believe that this particular case and appeal also deals with a sensitive marine protracted area. The CJCM believes in the rights of nature and supports further protection of our marine life and the ocean commons,” said Satgar.

“We believe the oceans should be free from exploration. We reject offshore oil and gas extraction and industrial-scale fishing. We believe strongly that the oceans commons should be managed by communities, small scale fishers and supported by government. It is also sacred for many communities. The commodifying logic of capital is destroying our marine ecosystems, undermining the capacity of the oceans to absorb carbon and taking away livelihoods from people.” OBP/DM

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