The Green Connection Ready For Searcher Fight, Round 2
In November, COP27 sees world leaders and other important decision-makers meet to discuss global efforts to address the climate crisis. Recent press reports have revealed that the country is the world’s 13th biggest source of climate-warming greenhouse gases and has pledged to reduce these emissions to net zero by 2050. Yet, the government continues to promote offshore oil and gas exploitation. This begs the question – is the government committed to addressing climate change, or committed to exploiting fossil fuels? It can’t be both, and it has become glaringly obvious that it is up to the people of South Africa to intervene to put a complete stop to any future seismic survey operations.
At this moment, Green Connection are gearing up to ward off Searcher’s second attempt to conduct seismic surveys in the ocean off the West Coast. The proposed 3D seismic survey area is around 30 000 km2 and the project would last for approximately 127 days, which may heavily disrupt and harm delicate marine ecosystems, causing risk of physical damage to marine animals and massively affecting entire small-scale fishing communities within the survey area.
This month Green Connection submitted their comments on the Searcher draft Basic Assessment Report (BAR). One of the issues raised was of underwater noise, whereby the impacts of noise on all species should be assessed including potential impacts on the migration of snoek, and juvenile turtles, that are in turn dependent on other species. Marine Ecologist and Associate Professor (Department of Biological Sciences, UCT) Colleen Maloney, in her support of the Searcher urgent interdict seismic survey case, in her affidavit stated that the ecosystem off the west coast of South Africa is one of the world’s most productive marine environments, with several nursery grounds for fishes, and an abundance of fishes, large crustacean zooplankton and squids that further support top predator populations, such as seabirds and marine mammals. This ecosystem must be protected at all costs. It is simply not in the interests of the citizens of South Africa to expose our oceans and coasts to the detrimental impacts of seismic surveys, nor to the increased risk of a potentially catastrophic major oil spill during exploration drilling – or during subsequent production operations, should commercially exploitable oil or gas reserves be discovered.
If our government is not going to step up, it is up to the members of the public to join organisations movements through; signing petitions, joining and organising protests, formally lodging their opposition to seismic surveys and take oil and gas companies to court. If it seems impossible, know that it is not. The first attempt by Searcher to blast our oceans was stopped when the company was taken to court by community and civil society applicants and the Western Cape Division of the High Court granted an order interdicting Searcher from continuing the seismic survey. The court ruled against Searcher on the 1st of March, as they failed to meaningfully consult small-scale fishers, communities and other affected groups and failed to conduct an environmental impact assessment. The same occurred in the Shell Wild Coast seismic survey case. The court agreed with those opposing the Shell survey that no proper consideration was given to climate change impacts of the proposed exploration. The court referred to expert testimony that stated that ‘authorising new oil and gas exploration, with its goal of finding exploitable oil and/or gas reserves and consequently leading to production, is not consistent with South Africa complying with its international climate change commitments’. In other words, even if oil and gas are found, we will not be able to burn them because the climate change impacts go directly against our – and global – climate change goals.
Despite their first defeat in the courts, Searcher have neglected to make any mention of this in their EIA application, and – rather duplicitously – their reconnaissance permit application is described as a new application.
Nevertheless, the 2021 Searcher victory, and the Shell victory, are testament to the fact that when we join up, rise up and speak up, we can hold the government accountable, and we can protect our oceans and our rights as custodians of our oceans. In the upcoming Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS), we hope the government will highlight how they will stop investing in offshore oil and gas, in order to decarbonise the economy.
Sign The Green Connection’s petition to stop offshore oil and gas exploration.