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Opinionista

Oil and water don’t mix, and neither do democracy and violating fishers’ constitutional rights

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Neville van Rooy is Community Outreach Coordinator for The Green Connection.

The unnecessary threats to our precious ocean and the climate risk, coupled with the blatant disregard of people’s rights, underpin our opposition to this final push to exploit oil and gas under our seas.

When will our country’s marginalised coastal communities really be part of this so-called democracy? In the two years since I started working with small-scale fishers, we have had to fight and call out several decisions – which could severely affect the livelihoods of thousands of South Africans, on top of exacerbating climate change – have been taken without meaningful consultation with those who would be affected.

This is not a good sign for our country’s already ailing democracy. 

As an eco-justice organisation working to protect the ocean, for now and for the future, The Green Connection does not take the fight against offshore fossil fuels lightly. We stand in solidarity with those affected and support their right to meaningful consultation, and their right to create and protect their livelihoods because, as we count down to a climate catastrophe, big oil and gas seems to be making its final push for Africa’s remaining offshore fossil fuels, without any real consideration for small-scale fisher livelihoods. 

But we are motivated by the victories. There was the very flawed Karpowership deal, which still has no environmental authorisation.

Then Shell started seismic surveys without consultation with the affected small-scale fishers.

Then Searcher Geodata, which was sent packing earlier this year and is now back to restart the entire process to apply to do seismic surveys to explore for oil and gas.

These companies must know that they cannot just come here with their questionable developments and expect us to sit back and accept it. South Africa has a Constitution and laws that must be adhered to. We hope that these companies learn the lesson that South Africa may be a developing country, but her people know their rights and will fight tooth and nail to protect it.

And the struggle continues…

Just two weeks ago, on 12 August 2022, Eco Atlantic Oil and Gas announced that the Island Innovator rig had started its 45-day journey from the North Sea to South Africa.

Small-scale Western Cape fishers call for halt to gas and oil exploration

In September, the rig plans to start offshore drilling operations at the Gazania-1 well (situated in Block 2B, which covers 3,062km2 off the West Coast, stretching from south of Kleinzee to the village of Kotzesrus).

This is an exploration right that was granted to a specific company, Thombo Petroleum, in 2011. Thombo is also the holder of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) authorisation. Since then, Azinam (recently taken over by Eco Atlantic) has taken over the majority interest in the exploration right. However, small-scale fishers do not appear to have been consulted. 

How can this drilling operation go ahead when communities, whose lives depend on the ocean, say that they have not participated in any meaningful public consultation processes which explain thoroughly and clearly what the project might entail or how it could affect their livelihoods?

Communities say their objections and concerns have neither been acknowledged nor recognised.

Surely the fact that these operations are planned for relatively shallow waters (ranging from 130m to 160m deep) and could have a significant impact on areas fished by small-scale fishers as well as the coast in the event of an uncontrolled oil spill, should qualify small-scale fishers as affected parties who should have a say in the matter?

Also currently in the pipeline is the TotalEnergies EP South Africa’s (Teepsa) EIA to drill up to five exploration wells southwest of Cape Town in blocks 5/6/7.

As we prepared to make our comments on the Draft Scoping Report (DSR) (submitted in early July), it became painfully clear that the well-being of small-scale fishers was not thoroughly considered. The lack of detail about what life-cycle impacts to expect if oil or gas is found – the report only considers the impacts during the exploration phase – means it does not provide a holistic understanding of all the potential impacts to be expected.

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Fisher communities would need to have all the facts before they can deliberate on the desirability of the project. We also found that the report also ignores the potential climate change risks in the event that fossil fuels are found and extracted.

And, since the report acknowledges that the greatest potential risk associated with oil and gas exploration is uncontrolled spills, such as in the event of a well blow-out, why then does the DSR not include a plan to conduct an assessment of the economic impacts of a major spill, which would directly affect the welfare and livelihoods of coastal communities?

And then there is Searcher Geodata, back again to officially apply for environmental authorisation – which it did not have in its attempt earlier in 2022 to undertake a 3D seismic survey off the West Coast, offshore between St Helena Bay and Hondeklip Bay.

This was when small-scale fishers took Searcher to court for starting its seismic survey to search for oil and gas, even though there was no adequate consultation with the fishers who may be affected and no environmental authorisation.

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So, while the Basic EIA is supposed to include several specialist studies regarding the marine ecology, heritage, social, acoustic and fisheries impact assessments, it is critical that the company ensures that there is sufficient opportunity for meaningful public participation with the fishers whose livelihoods are at stake.

The unnecessary threat to our precious ocean and the climate risk, coupled with the blatant disregard of people’s rights – which are guaranteed by the Constitution – underpin our opposition to this final push to exploit oil and gas under our seas.

As long as the government and big business continue to ignore the climate crisis while conveniently excluding affected communities, The Green Connection will continue to rally civil society and environmental organisations to raise the voices of those marginalised and to raise awareness of their plight.

And make no mistake, life on the coast will become even harder if we cannot keep global warming below 1.5°C. Therefore, there can be no more room for fossil fuels.

The time has come to transition to renewable energy. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Get your point, but we are not a democracy; we’re something else: an authoritocracy or a failedocracy or braindeadocracy. If 50% of the country will elect the ANC-crookery to power again – there will be no greening of the future nor just transition to anything much.

  • mike muller says:

    Unfortunately, transitioning to renewable energy is not that easy. Perhaps it would have been more helpful to ask the (ocean-going) small fishers how they would feel if they were told that they can no longer use their existing boats but must buy new ones (or fit new engines that use green energy). Even the shore-based fishers probably need a (fossil fuelled) vehicle to reach the water. So will they mind if the price of fuel increases five-fold?

    It’s easy to say ‘transition to renewable energy’ – and we will have to do it.

    But to pretend that it is a simple matter that will not affect the livelihoods of poor people is unhelpful. The starting point has to be to reduce fossil fuel USE in ways that do not do unacceptable social and economic harm to, especially, poor people. So let’s consider what their alternative will be as the transition evolves – otherwise, climate advocacy will make the poor poorer.

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