While TotalEnergies Continues To Risk People, The Environment And The Climate, Civil Society Remains Resolved To Oppose Offshore Oil And Gas

The past two weeks, The Green Connection and Natural Justice – with support from affected small-scale fishers – have been very busy making submissions to highlight, once again, all the reasons to reject two separate offshore oil and gas applications made by TotalEnergies.

Submissions Made

In response to the Draft Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (DESIA) for TEEPSA’s proposed offshore production right and environmental authorisation applications for Block 11B/12B (22 September 2023), the organisations point out that, since certain aspects of the project has been excluded, not all the potential negative impacts have been accounted for or considered in the DESIA. They also argue that the impacts to ecologically sensitive marine areas and the overall effect on climate change are equally ill-considered.

Then, in the submission regarding TotalEnergies’ Deep Water Orange Basin (DWOB) Oil and Gas drilling application – which seeks to explore ten (10) wells for oil and gas, in the Deep Water Orange Basin block on the West Coast – it is again concern for ocean health and the consequences for small-scale fisher livelihoods, should this precious ocean be harmed or damaged. And again, climate change is central. The project was approved by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s (DMRE), last month (October 2023).

The Green Connection’s Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy says, “With both of these projects, there is a long list of impacts that must be considered. From the potential impact to marine biodiversity of certain ecologically sensitive areas to the social and economic impacts for the small-scale fishers who depend on the ocean for their livelihoods. There is also air pollution and the resulting health impacts to consider down the line when oil and gas is used, as well as the effect these projects may have on the cultural heritage of the largely indigenous communities living along the coast. However, right now, the most critical impacts are those which further exacerbate climate change because as it worsens, this could be catastrophic for all of us.”

He says, “The application for Block 11B/12B is for a production licence. This means that once oil or gas has been found, it must be pumped out of the ocean via a pipeline to something called a platform. From here, it would either be transported via another pipeline or via ship to its destination, such as the PetroSA refinery or to an Eskom power station to be burnt to generate electricity. However, we need to know the condition of this platform (which is owned by Petro SA) as it has been non-operational since December 2020. It is important to note that this project does not include repairing the platform or checking and fixing the various pipelines, meaning that several impacts associated with this project have not been accounted for or considered. From start to finish, it is clear that this project comes with a lot of potential harm that can be caused along the way. Why then have these not been included?”

The proposed new pipeline infrastructure on the ocean floor, which is part of the project, is confirmed by TEEPSA’s own consultants as being incompatible with the ecologically sensitive habitat which it will destroy.

Communities Raise Their Voices

Secretary of Kymore Fisheries Eastern Cape and lifelong fisher, Randal Bentley, attended the TEEPSA public hearing concerning Block 11/12B. He says he was dismayed to find out that many other local fishers were not aware of the public meeting. “Too many questions were not directly answered, and we were told that more in-depth studies were necessary to those questions, which they couldn’t answer at all. Should a leak occur, it would be catastrophic and a blow-out they say would take 20 days to cap. They did not present many facts but mostly offered speculation. And we are not willing, nor can we afford to risk our livelihoods and our ocean environment based on speculations.”

Ocean Defender and small-scale fisher from Knysna, Barend Fredericks says, “TEEPSA needs to come back and properly explain in detail about the outcomes of the licensing and expectations on oil and gas, to those most affected. The real fishers were not well informed of their public hearing, and they deserve to know fully what these developments will mean for them and their livelihoods.”

Natural Justice maintains that the voices of impacted communities that should be articulated through this process, are incredibly important when the final decisions are made. Melissa Groenink-Groves, Natural Justice Programme Manager: Defending Rights, says: “We support the fishers in their concerns. And we reiterate our opposition to these applications for oil and gas exploration and exploitation due to their contributions on climate change, resulting in impacts which the people and the planet cannot sustain.”

The DWOB Appeal

The DWOB application, on the other hand, is for an exploration right on the West Coast. This involves activities relating to the search for oil and gas under the ocean floor. And since the ocean does not adhere to any boundaries, this interconnectedness must be recognised, especially in terms of the cumulative impacts. Because what is happening in one part of the ocean could very easily affect, for example the breeding or feeding situations in another. Therefore, any ecological impact to the seabed could have a ripple-effect on small-scale fisher livelihoods. However, the report mentions that there are no impacts for commercial fisheries but has not paid due attention to how these activities might affect the small-scale, subsistence fishers.

According to van Rooy, “This is unacceptable, especially when we think about the toxic chemicals, that will be used in the drill cuttings, escalating up the food chain. Remember, the plan is to explore ten (10) different wells in different areas which means that the impact will be spread further. We believe there is no need for more oil and gas to be extracted from the Earth. According to International Energy Agency (IEA), there are sufficient reserves and enough projects on the go or in the pipeline, to facilitate the just transition to more sustainable energy sources.

The organisations say that the next 20 years present a critical window for addressing the climate crisis and it is therefore not desirable for the country to continue to invest in fossil fuel sources that will inevitably add to GHG emissions, such as natural gas, which includes methane, which is particularly dangerous since it makes up approximately 70-90% of natural gas emissions and is projected to have more than eighty (80) times the impact of CO2,  over a 20-year period. South Africa is already experiencing the worsening impacts of climate change, such as prolonged droughts, Day Zeros, and flooding. From an economic perspective, the country has already spent approximately R900 million between 2016-2020 for drought relief, and this amount is anticipated to increase as climate change impacts worsen.

The Green Connection says, “We have long been opposed to TotalEnergies’ attempts to further explore for oil and gas in our oceans not only because we are in a climate crisis and do not need any new fossil fuel projects, but we are also trying to protect our ocean for future generations, and for the sustainable livelihoods of small-scale fishers. We are living in a time of much uncertainty regarding food and water security. Why would we risk our precious oceans? This is why we completely reject TotalEnergies’ efforts to come and exploit oil and gas off the South African coast.”

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