Articles, News & Events

ARE EIA’S WORTH THE PAPER IT’S WRITTEN ON?

by Jan Arkert

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the purpose of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study. But for the benefit of the layperson, especially those who will be affected by Total’s (TEPSA) application to drill an additional 10 exploration wells off the Cape South Coast, let me clarify. An EIA can be defined as the study to predict the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment. It can also be regarded as a tool to aid the decision-making process as it compares various alternatives for a project and seeks to identify the one which represents the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.

So with this in mind, it should be of great concern to all interested parties that the noble concept of EIA’s has been reduced to nothing less than an elaborate box-ticking exercise. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs) – who are supposed to provide an unbiased opinion on proposed activities – conduct EIA’s to satisfy the requirements of bureaucrats.

In my opinion, it is evident that despite South Africa’s sound legislation, EIA’s are being undermined by vested interests that look to reduce the process to a financially rewarding exercise in which the essence of social and environmental reflection has been forgotten. In my opinion the process of conducting EIA’s is rapidly deteriorating into a disgrace. The situation can only be remedied when EAP’s truly act independently and in environmental and social interests, and government departments qualified to vet the reports do so with the due diligence and sincerity that is deserved. 

Having spent a substantial portion of my career perusing and commenting on environmental impact reports, I have come to the position where I must ask if they have any real value.

Post 1994, South Africa’s environmental legislation was redrafted, and Section 24 of our constitution includes clauses to guarantee our environmental health. There is no doubt that our National Environmental Act (NEMA) and its many derivations are sound pieces of legislation, but like any law, it is only as effective as its application.

Currently I am a registered interested and affected party (IAP) in Total’s (TEPSA) application to drill an additional 10 exploration well off the Cape South Coast.  The public were initially given 30 days to review – to go through a document that was more than 250 pages in length (an attachment of approx.. 55mb), covering complex scientific and technical issues.

The period for comment was extended by an additional 30 days due to objections lodged by The Green Connection and other environmental NGO’s who opposed the poorly conducted public participation process during the CoVid-19 lockdown period. The public participation process, as far as I know, was conducted as a single webinar that excluded communities and individuals with no access to wi-fi or electronic media.

Public consultation was not conducted. And, I emphasize the word consultation. Affected people along the Cape south coast have not been adequately empowered to provide an informed decision about activities along the coast, which may have direct impact on their lives. Consultation is not about placing adverts in newspapers that few people read, a few radio advertisements or placing large verbose documents in libraries. It is not about a webinar in which questions could only be placed in writing with no opportunities to provide follow up comments when inadequate answers were provided. Consultation is face to face meetings and discussions in which all communities are informed and empowered to provide their opinion on the issues that may impact upon their current and future lives.

The final Scoping Report has now been submitted to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA), a government agency whose mandate is to promote exploration for onshore and offshore oil and gas resources and their optimal development on behalf of government. This is a great example of the fox guarding the hen house.

Be that as it may, diligently included in the final submission are comments received from IAP’s, by far the majority opposing the proposed off-shore oil and gas exploration. What struck me, as I went through the reply provided by the Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAP), was the seemingly defensive tone as well as the number of replies that wish to assure us that TEPSA has the experience, or TEPSA will apply best industry practice or TEPSA motivated… I was not aware being a spokesman for the applicant’s abilities forms a part of the EAP’s scope of work.

This makes a complete mockery of the proudly presented declaration by the EAP that they have no vested interest in the outcome of the project – a standard declaration required in all these reports. Since when does a consultant, who is paid handsomely by the applicant, have no vested interest when his services are being paid for?

It is obvious, in my opinion that the EAP will do all in their power to ensure that they are re-appointed for the next phase of the project. They have a direct interest in the outcome of the project, their bottom line depends on it. So, once again economic considerations trump environmental protection and people’s livelihoods.

News & Events

THE GREEN CONNECTION, CIVIL SOCIETY SUBMIT COMMENTS TO DMR TO HALT OFF-SHORE DRILLING

Small-scale fishing communities around the country, many of whom already face increasing unemployment, say they are concerned about the impact oil and gas drilling will have on their livelihoods.

The Green Connection (GC), a registered interested & affected party (I&AP), today submitted its comments on the government’s Draft Scoping Report in which Total E & P South Africa (TEPSA) are seeking a permit to drill an additional 10 wells, 40 to 110km south of Knysna and Mossel Bay.

The Green Connection had earlier raised its concerns regarding the issue and called for a stop to all offshore oil and gas drilling. The organisation cited the lack of adequate public participation in the process as well as the potentially significant impact of drilling on the environment and local communities. The situation has been given added impetus with the recent arrival of the DeepSea Stavanger oil drilling rig in Cape Town on top of the current oil spill disaster in Mauritius.

The Green Connection’s Liziwe McDaid said another concern was that the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) appeared to be making decisions on behalf of TEPSA and Government. “We believe that PASA’s job is to comment on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and not make decisions. Decisions should be made by the DMRE.”

“In our submission, we point out that in trying to assess the environmental impacts of individual projects such as this, we also need to look at the cumulative impacts. How the environment will be further impacted based on previously approved drilling, such as that which the DeepSea Stavanger is planning for Mossel Bay. We cannot look at this this one well in isolation,” says McDaid.

“To date, public participation has been far from adequate. During the Covid19 pandemic, we have seen that the EIA public participation has continued, and yet affected communities, without adequate access to the internet, have no idea about what has been planned. We are also very concerned that the issue of climate change and its impact on the project is not outlined in the Scoping Report. We would like to see the inclusion of a mitigation and adaptation risks, with regards to the impact of climate change,” she says.

“The government and public at large need no reminding of the devastating effects of potential oil spills on the environment, its deadly impact on marine life as well as the risks to the coastal flora. However, the potential damage to the coastal communities, including fishers in the area, could be catastrophic in that ecosystem damage would affect the livelihoods of those coastal communities that have been dependent on the ocean for many years,” concludes McDaid.

Green Connection’s Neville van Rooy has been engaging coastal communities who could potentially be affected by the detrimental consequences of the drilling. He says: “On a recent visit with small-scale fishers who were affected by the oil spills that happened on the West Coast in the areas of Saldanha Bay, Langebaan and Paternoster in 1983, people spoke of the months-long consequences of the oil spill. They said the contamination was still prevalent months after the oil spill. This in-turn had a real-time effect on the community’s ability to fish and make a living.”

Van Rooy says that major gas and oil companies like Total had to look at viable alternatives to fossil fuels. “There are proven alternatives, with less negative impact on the environment and communities,” he said.

Chairperson of Coastal Links Eastern Cape Ntsindiso Nongcavu says that the community-based organisation – which helps small-scale fishers secure their livelihoods and their human rights – is concerned about oil and gas drilling because the government officials did not do proper consultation with the affected communities.

“Coastal Links EC says no to oil and gas drilling because there are too many risks for us small-scale fishing communities. We would lose of our fishing rights in the area around the drilling, and many ocean species will migrate as a result of the drilling. Already there are no job opportunities to help develop us as poor communities because we don’t have a skill. Our future is in fishing and tourism.”

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) in conjunction with the KZN Subsistence Fisherfolk Forum and the youth of South Durban says, “This ocean grab for oil and gas is wrong for so many reasons.  The South African coastline is highly sensitive with a wide range of marine biodiversity and we have just marked a decade since the BP Deep Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, where lives, livelihoods and biodiversity were lost.  Still to this day, the communities have not recovered.  We are now also witnessing the effects of the oil spill in Mauritius where the A Japanese bulk carrier that has leaked 4000 of tonnes of fuel causing an ecological emergency.”

Judy Bell, a member of FrackFreeSA and Coastwatch KZN echoed Green Connection’s concerns. She says: “The area where this gas grab is underway is an ecotone, where the warm Agulhas Current meets the cold waters of the Benguela Current. These are vast breeding and feeding grounds for all kinds of marine creatures, which support all our lives and livelihoods.  The impact of drilling waste, leaking wells or even a blow out, will be felt by all South Africans, Mozambicans and Namibians. We call for a moratorium on offshore exploration and extraction until a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) has been undertaken.”

Avena Jacklin from Friends of the Earth Moz and groundWork (FoE, SA) added: “Total is a big fish in the emerging gas grab taking advantage of the State of Disaster to fast track authorisations through lack of consultation and transparency. In addition, Total has failed to reveal the true results of its Brulpadda well findings and accident reports of earlier drilling failures. It has failed to consider financial provisioning for abandoned wells, blowouts and disasters, which would fall onto South African taxpayers. It has failed to consider the needs and desirability in a transition to a low carbon economy and the impacts of fossil fuels on South Africa’s extremely high GHG emissions. Total, in its process thus far, is set up for failure and brings huge risk to our oceans, fish breeding grounds and communities. We support the call for a moratorium on off-shore drilling in the affected area.”

The Support Centre for Land Change’s (SCLC) Rosa-Linda Kock stressed that authorisation for the drilling should not be considered. “Total and SLR have failed to connect with the potentially affected communities in the Garden Route District.  As far as SCLC is reaching out to these fishermen, they are all responding with the same:  “We know nothing about this.” No authorisation can and should be granted during the State of Disaster.”

The new ‘struggle’ in South Africa is being played out in the frontline between citizens and mining companies. Unless we realize that it is time to stand in unity against the mining corporates, our hope for a better life will be swallowed forever. Mining or life, we have to choose,” says Elizabeth Balcomb of FrackFreeSA.

Director at Justica Ambiental/Friends of the Earth Mozambique Anabela Lemos says: “Since the entrance of the gas industry (including Total), the communities of Cabo Delgado have lost everything – access to their farmlands, the ocean and their entire livelihoods. Their struggle has been exacerbated by the war which started in 2017, in which over 1000 people have been killed. These communities are terrified, not only of the insurgents, but also of the military, facing continuing human rights violations, including sexual assaults of women in villages. Journalists and outspoken people are randomly detained or disappeared. One journalist, Ibrahimo Abu Mbaruco disappeared in April and a community member, who spoke out against military violence, has been missing since May. What is happening in Cabo Delgado is a horror story, becoming more and more terrifying every day.”