Eco-Justice Watchdog Raises Concerns About Insufficient Info On AZINAM’s Oil Spill Contingency Planning
As the Azinam/Eco Atlantic oil rig – which left the North Sea on 12 August – makes its way to South Africa to begin its exploration drilling for oil and gas on the West Coast, The Green Connection raises the alarm that no project-specific oil spill contingency plan (OSCP), has been made available to interested and affected parties. Following a notice from Environmental Impact Management
Services (EIMS) – the company appointed to assist with stakeholder engagement for the project – inviting the public to engage them on issues to do with the project, the eco-justice watchdog took the opportunity to get clarity on a number of issues about the project, including the OSCP.
The Green Connection’s Strategic Lead Liziwe McDaid says, “While we did manage to get some of the answers we were looking for, Azinam has not been very forthcoming regarding the details for their contingency plan, in the case of an oil spill. First we were told by EIMS that we would need to request it from their client Azinam/Eco Atlantic. Then we were told by Azinam/Eco-Atlantic’s lawyers that we can get the OSCP but only on condition that we agree not share it with anyone.”
The Green Connection refused to agree to this condition as it believes that the OSCP should be in the public arena. The organisation has even suggested that Azinam/Eco-Atlantic redact any information that would fall under the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), such as personal details of individuals. In response to this proposal, Eco-Atlantic’s lawyers advised it to make an application to the South African Maritime Safety Association (SAMSA), in accordance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).
A PAIA application relating to third party applications (third party information held by a public body like SAMSA) can take almost 3 months to process. If the authorities refuse, the decision can be appealed, but this process can take about two months to finalise. By that time the exploration drilling would have commenced and most likely would have been completed. The Green Connection adds that with the imminent arrival of the rig, it is clear that such a process would simply act as a barrier to accessing information that should be made public, as a matter of principle.
According to The Green Connection, a project-specific OSCP, in respect of this proposed exploration drilling, is a central mitigation measure that was proposed in the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for large blow-outs. 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 (EIA) process, and we understand only submitted to the relevant authorities recently.
We find the need for a PAIA application, in this situation, quite puzzling. Should emergency response information not be freely available to the public? Why then is Azinam not being transparent about this information, which directly affects the public? What is so secret in these documents that those who are likely to be involved in any clean-up efforts are not allowed to see? An oil or gas well blowout is an uncontrolled release of crude oil or gas from a well and can happen for a number of reasons. The oil spill contingency plan should detail the entire mitigation process, from clean-up to shoreline protection to rehabilitation.
The Green Connection’s Neville van Rooy says, “Remember the environmental emergency in Mauritius, when the Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio ran aground on 25 July 2020? It was the people of the island who had to pull together to curb the impacts of the oil spill. And what about the disaster in Peru in January this year, where a ruptured underwater oil pipeline has had an overwhelming effect on coastal fishing communities located as far as 50 kms north of the spill site? According to media reports, Peru’s former environment minister admits that the country has a poor track record of holding big polluters accountable. Who will compensate those whose lives have been
“And even though oil and gas companies often appear prepared to dismiss the possibility of large blowouts, we must face the fact that they do happen. We are still counting the financial and other costs of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, which spilled more than four million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. What irreparable harm is still being caused by this disaster? Therefore, in the case of Azinam’s drilling project, it only makes sense that people in the affected regions know what to do, should something go wrong,” says van Rooy.
Communities in the affected areas in the Northern Cape say that the stakeholder engagements – which were held by EIMS in June 2022 in Hondeklipbaai, Koingnaas, and Kleinsee – were seemingly held to simply tell communities that the oil drilling was happening.
According to Walter Steenkamp, a veteran small-scale fisher from Port Nolloth and Chairperson of Coastal Links Northern Cape, “As small-scale fishers, we say no to oil and gas exploration because it is dangerous for our fish and water, and it contributes to global warming. No-one has told us what will happen when there is a leak, nor have we been informed about how the marine ecosystem will
be affected. 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.”
The Green Connection says that the question of whether or not 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 crises, has become a particularly contentious issue. However, 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.
Click the link below to sign The Green Connection’s petition to stop offshore oil and gas, as part of its Who Stole Our Oceans campaign – https://www.change.org/p/imagine-a-world-with-oiled-up-beaches-without-living-ocean-are-we-running-out-of-time