Just how fair and non discriminatory was SLR’s stakeholder engagement meeting for TOTAL’s second round of 10 proposed drill wells on the South Coast in Block 11B/12B? It was online – to join you needed a device, wifi and 207 MB of data, just to load the webinar app. The entire meeting was in English, for complex technical discussion and the public was on mute. With the added load-shedding, many more were excluded from this process. Hard copy notices were not posted in public libraries and SLR did not include site notices or radio notices required to notify potentially impacted communities. Civil society including research and conservation groups, NGOs and community groups, including Oceans Not Oil, have objected to SLR’s unjust and rushed public participation.
Meanwhile, Africa Energy’s Ogfell Deepsea Stavanger drilling rig is sailing from Norway to start drilling the Luiperd-1 well in September. This is well no.2 of 10 authorized wells. The same rig and crew was involved in the first well, Brulpadda, which made the large gas-condensate discovery in Feburary 2019. Operations at Brulpadda were suspended in 2014, before reaching targets, due to the harsh deep water environments and challenging surface conditions. It took them 5 years to find the technology to continue, and they did it in calm conditions. This week Cape Town experienced extremely rough seas and coastal flooding, strong storm surges with gale force winds uprooting trees and destroying property. Preparation for any incident and accident is lacking in the Scoping report for the next 10 wells. Information related to TOTAL’s Brulpadda failures were also missing.
Close to the exploration Block 11B/12B is the newly discovered biogenic coral reef structure Secret Reef, part of the Kingclip Corals. It contains dense communities of fragile and sensitive coral and bryozoan species. These are part of a unique rocky ridge with adjacent undersea hills (koppies in Afrikaans), that support fragile corals and are covered by dense clouds of plankton and hake (Sink 2016; 2019). It is made up of five ecosystem types, three of which are threatened, including an Endangered type. This Critical Biodiversity Area (CBA) is of particular concern because as a protected area, it meets biodiversity targets because it had high selection frequency in a national systematic conservation plan (Sink et al., 2011; SANBI unpublished results in analysis for Madjiedt et al., 2013).
Prospecting drilling, seismic testing and associated electromagnetic waves will potentially impact Marine Protected Areas and Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas, and therefore triggers a far wider impact range than what the Scoping Report indicates. Key biodiversity authorities, institutes, researchers and conservation groups were left out of the public participation plan. Critical interested and affected parties involved in disaster management planning and response were also not included. Any accidental release of oil and gas, blowout, or system failure could have devastating impacts on people, livelihoods and the environment.
The public participation plans approved by PASA do not satisfy the required environmental regulations and State of Disaster directions. With Odgfell Deepsea Stavanger drilling rig on its way to South African shores, we will have to keep a careful lookout for further violations and prepare to ensure people’s rights and that the processes are inclusive, fair, transparent and the companies are accountable.
Our major concerns related to proposed exploration in block 11B/12B:
· Long-term impact on climate change is not mentioned in the Scoping Report;
· Extreme oceanic conditions in the Agulhas Current and the subsequent drilling failures in the field during 2014;
· Seasonal weather conditions;
· Impact on marine mammals due to seismic surveys;
· Impact on sharks and rays by the Controlled Source Electromagnetic Method (CSEM), also referred to as sea bed logging, involves employing electromagnetic remote-sensing technology to map the electric resistivity distribution of the subsurface;
· Smothering by drill cuttings and wastes of corals and sessile species;
· Impact on Kingklip spawning habitat;
· Impact on cold-water corals;
· Biologically and Ecologically Significant and Protected Areas (EBSA’s, CBA’s and MPA’s) are in close proximity to drill area;
· Lack of information and data on impact on marine populations and communities.
Sink, K.J., van der Bank, M.G., Majiedt, P.A., Harris, L.R., Atkinson, L., Karenyi, N., Kirkman, S. (eds) 2019. National Biodiversity Assessment 2018 Technical Report Volume 4: Marine Realm. South African National
Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria. http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12143/6372.
Majiedt, P., Holness, S., Sink, K., Oosthuizen, A., Chadwick, P. 2013. Systematic Marine Biodiversity Plan for the West Coast of South Africa. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town.
Sink, K. 2016. Deep Secrets: the outer shelf and slope ecosystems of South Africa. Cruise Report: ALG 230 ACEP_DSC.