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New Coelacanth find, will Big Oil still drill?

Image of coelacanth.

A coelacanth was found off Hibberdene this morning (22 November 2019) at ~68m by Alan & Mike Fraser, together with their dive buddies Bruce Henderson and and Mossie Carstens. Reasons to celebrate and marvel at a fish with an ancient lineage of more than 360 million years. They are the sole remaining members of a once widespread family of lobe-finned fishes, with over a hundred known from fossil records. The first live one was found off our coast in 1938, and recently there was doubt cast by environmental consultants to Sasol and Eni as to whether there could really be more individuals in the vicinity of their ‘areas of interest’ of oil and gas development.

Image of coelacanth.
Mike Fraser finds coelacanth off coast of KZN at 68m, 22 Nov 2019.

So the future of this glorious creature, which has survived extinction, hangs in the balance. Whether this news will affect Minister Barbara Creecy’s decision on the 47 appeals against Eni and Sasol conducting exploratory drilling between Richards Bay and Port Shepstone is moot.

What Minister Creecy must take into account is that the frequency at which accidental discharges of crude oil occur in offshore waters suggests that they can be expected during “typical” operations (Cordes et al, 2016). Also of major significance considering the ‘phakisa’ rush for offshore gas at pioneer depths is the empirical relationship between the depth of drilling operations and the frequency of accidents during drilling operations (Muhlenbachs et al. 2013).  It is therefore imperative that the long awaited oil pollution bill that is up for comment until the end of November not only identify roles and responsibilities, effective response strategies and operational procedures before the added pressure of any real spill incident, but properly identifies priorities for protection.

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