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Creecy rides the Gas Dreadnought

Our Minister for the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy pronounced on the appeal against Italian oil corporation ENI and Sasol’s application for exploratory drilling offshore of Richards Bay and Scottborough. She gives these two companies with poor risk mitigation reputations[1], the go ahead to drill at record depths[2] in the Agulhas Current, known to be one of the strongest in the world. Experience shows us that these drillships will probably sail before the festive season ends in late January, as soon as Petroleum Agency South Africa (PASA) rubber stamps ENI’s exploration license renewal.

The 47 appellants entreated the only public servant who is mandated to implement, amongst others:

  • the whole-of-government plan for climate action;
  • sustainable economic development and 
  • leaving fossil fuels off the agenda to ensure greenhouse gas emissions do not continue to peak after 2030. 

Instead of broaching the very real effects of offshore exploration to global warming and local seas Ms Creecy marginalised the issue in various ways[3], namely: 

  1. Ringfencing the Terms of Engagement

Ms Creecy has failed to interrogate energy alternatives or the origins and integrity of the energy policies and oil-and-gas-promoting agencies to which she defers. ‘Oilgate’ sits fresh still in public memory. Her conditions are reliant on the oversight and engagement of this officialdom, and the critical role of government, which includes the exercise of due diligence.

Overall, there is no evidence of an open and enquiring mind brought to bear on this appeal.

  • Decoupling Exploration from Production 

Ms Creecy delinks the exploration phase from the production phase which highlights the limitations of the EIA process in addressing climate change in the decision making process. It also indicates that the Mr Mantashe/ President Ramaphosa regime are bent on developing another ‘hard-to-abate’ sector while refusing a coal-power phase-out until later this century, arguably further entrenching the inequalities of extractivism and protracting a just transition. 

  • Disinclination to Transition

Ms Creecy has defined her investigation so narrowly as to exclude the most salient features around the environmental and socioeconomic consequences of this exploration to our climate future.  She has completely side-stepped the critique that no Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) – broadly recognized as an important tool to promote sustainability- driven decision-making (Lamorgese et al. 2015) – has not been done for the offshore oil and gas sector in South Africa. She also disregarded SDCEA’s request that the 2012 Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa, to which South Africa is a signatory, be brought into consideration so that at least a realistic cost-benefit analysis is done.

It is Ms Creecy’s duty and obligation to prove to all citizens the following:

  • if there are nett benefits, who benefits?
  • what are the long-term total costs of extraction?

The sea has been the climate mitigation hero by absorbing 90% of ghg emissions. it is well understood that the consequences of this are acidification and sea-level rise. These get worse as the sea gets warmer and less and less oxygen gets circulated in the sea leading to massive impacts on the sovereignty of biodiversity.

The Operation Phakisa promise of nine billion barrels of oil and eleven billion barrels of oil equivalent of gas from the offshore wells would melt over a hundred square kilometres of Arctic ice. Offshore oil and gas exploration is one of the most significant human activities that disturbs coastal and marine ecosystems (Kark et al. 2015; Cordes et al. 2016). It imposes a variety of threats ranging from acoustic pollution from seismic surveys (e.g. Hildebrand 2009) to acute pollution derived from oil spills (e.g. Joye et al. 2016), along with the introduction of invasive species (e.g. Yeo et al. 2009) and chronic pollution (e.g. Johansen et al. 2017).

This pronouncement does nothing to protect the already heavily compromised sea, upon which we all rely, nor deconstruct the massive political barriers to decarbonising electricity generation in South Africa.

[1]ENI ‘s Cairo rig caught fire. See Fire that sank rig damages ENI-BP platform off Egypt (2004, August 12) . Oil & Gas Journal

ENI’s Angola drill rig sunk; Saipem was under their control at the time. See Saipem Rig Sinks Offshore Angola. One Person Missing (2013, July 2). Offshore Energy.

ENI/ Shell Nigeria corruption case which involved $1.1bn in bribes – see Le Bec, C. ( 2020, September 24). Nigeria Eni/Shell corruption case: Future of Eni’s CEO at stake. The Africa Report.

For Sasol’s mispending at Lake Charles chemical complex in Louisiana see Theunissen, G. (2020, October 2). A billion here and a billion there: how Sasol came to sell 50% of its Lake Charles megaproject. Business Insider.

For Sasol’s the toxic air and water pollution see Bega, S. (2019, September 25). Sasol: SA’s carbon criminal. IOL.

[2]The KZN wells are planned to be between  3,800 – 4,100 metres deep offshore Richard’s Bay and 5,100ms offshore Scottborough. Angola’s Block 48 is currently the deepst well at 3,628 meters.

[3]ONO acknowledges political economist Patrick Bond’s overview on this. 

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