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Enviro groups approach High Court over TotalEnergies Cape coast drilling plans

Oil and gas rig

Photo by Bloomberg

26th March 2024

By: Marleny Arnoldi

Deputy Editor Online

     

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Environmental organisations The Green Connection (TGC) and Natural Justice have submitted an application in the High Court against the environmental authorisation granted to TotalEnergies Exploration and Production South Africa (Teepsa) for exploratory drilling in Blocks 5, 6 and 7 on the Cape Town and Cape Agulhas coast.

The respondents include Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe; the director-general of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), who granted the environmental authorisation; and Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, who dismissed appeals by various people and organisations against this decision.

Teepsa was granted environmental authorisation on April 17 last year for the drilling, while Creecy received 18 complaint appeals during the statutory appeal period.

TGC strategic lead Liziwe McDaid says South Africa’s oceans and the sustainable livelihoods of coastal communities need to be defended, adding that the organisation remains committed to good governance and ensuring that development decisions are made with the sustainable management of oceans in mind.

“We do not believe the DMRE’s decision to grant environmental authorisation and Creecy’s subsequent dismissal of appeals were in the public interest, for both current and future generations,” McDaid adds.

The legal grounds for review of the environmental authorisation include government’s failure to assess the socioeconomic impacts of a potential oil spill on local fisheries, while also ignoring the climate change impacts associated with oil or gas use.

TGC and Natural Justice are also concerned about a lack of proper evaluation of Teepsa’s oil spill blowout contingency plans, stating that the impacts of drilling activities may extend to Namibia and international waters.

“We believe that, in order to promote and ensure a healthy democracy, the decision-making process must adhere to our country’s legal frameworks, in this instance, the National Environmental Management Act and the Integrated Coastal Management Act.

“These laws prioritise the conservation and protection of our coastal resources, while also promoting meaningful public participation,” states Natural Justice programme manager Melissa Groenink.

She adds that the law defines South Africa’s coast as public property which is owned by citizens and held in trust by the State, meaning that decisions taken by Ministers regarding the management of these oceans must take into consideration the need to conserve and protect the coast for the benefit of the country’s citizens.

Groenink believes that, overall, investment in oil and gas projects threatens climate goals and the resilience of communities globally to adapt to the changing climate, particularly small-scale fishers that are already experiencing lower fish stocks and devastating floods.

Teepsa, as operator, and its partners Shell and State-owned PetroSA, currently hold an exploration right over Block 5, 6 and 7 off the Cape Town and Cape Agulhas coast. The companies have undertaken two seismic surveys in the block and, based on the results, Teepsa proposes to drill one exploration well and up to four additional wells in total within the area of interest, depending on the success of the first well.

The area of interest covers an area of 10 000 km2 and is located about 60 km from the coast at its closest point and 170 at its farthest. The water depths range from 700 m to 3.2 km in this area.

The purpose of the proposed exploration drilling is to facilitate the determination of whether geological structures contain oil or gas.

SRL Consulting was appointed as the independent environmental assessment practitioner to undertake the environmental and social impact assessment for the proposed project.

The coastline around the Cape Agulhas region is biodiverse as a result of the converging Agulhas and Benguela currents, which attracts whales, sharks and dolphins to the area.

TGC says the impacts of noise on all species of the proposed drilling programme should be assessed, including potential impacts on the migration of snoek and juvenile turtles that are in turn dependent on other species.

“Within the context of the climate change crisis and the reality that the extraction and use of fossil fuels will inevitably add to greenhouse gas emissions, the proposed drilling project is neither needed nor desirable.”

 

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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