1520 TGS: Unlawful + Unfit
Basic Assessment Report (BAR)
This letter serves to comment on the Basic Assessment Report (BAR) prepared as part of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and lodge an objection to the proposed speculative three-dimensional (3D) seismic survey, 57 400 km2 in extent, by TGS Geophysical Company UK (TGS) 120 km offshore of St Helena Bay, extending north along the western coastline to approximately 230 km offshore of Hondeklip Bay over several petroleum licence blocks.
The objection is based on the following, inter alia:
- PROCEDURAL IRREGULARITY
The MPRDA does not enable permitting of non-exclusive multi-client seismic acquisition. Section 74 subsection (1)(a) to (c) of the MPRDA defines the ’holder’ of a reconnaissance permit or exploration right as meaning ‘the person to whom such right or permit has been granted or such person’s successor in title’. Also s74(2)(b), of the MPRDA states requirements of a reconnaissance application include that, “no other person holds a technical co-operation permit, exploration right or production right for petroleum over any part of the area”.
TGS is not the holder of the rights to blocks 12/3/274 ER , 12/3/343 ER , 12/3/339 ER, 12/3/248 ER, therefore TGS holds these permitting rights unlawfully.
2. TGS SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT NOT FIT FOR SERVICE
That the Social Impact Assessmnet (SIA) recommends that “the project can proceed subject to the mitigation measures (i.e. meaningful consultation, local research, education, and awareness raising in the project-affected communities) forming part of the conditions for authorisation and being implemented prior to the commencement of the actual survey”. This implies the public participation process happens after authorisation and before the survey. This is unacceptably irregular and defies the Principles and Values underpinning Public Participation of Section 1 of the Constitution (RSA, 1996) of South Africa which:
- Promotes active and representative participation towards enabling all community members to meaningfully influence the decisions that affect their lives.
- Incorporates the diverse interests and cultures of the community in the development process, and disengages from support of any effort that is likely to adversely affect the disadvantaged members of a community;
Therefore, this draft BAR is not fit for service.
3. NEED AND DESIRABILITY OF THE PROJECT
a. It is a fatal flaw in this draft BAR that it has not drawn on the Sustaining the Wild Coast NPC & Others v Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy & Others, High Court of South Africa, Eastern Cape Division, Makhanda – Case No. 3491/2021, to produce a climate impact assessment. Without such an assessment, there is a severely understated existential risk to present and future generations. The draft BAR, therefore, fails to place all relevant considerations before the decision-maker, as contemplated under Section 6(2)(e)(iii) of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.
b. The need and desirability of the project have not been addressed according to guidelines (Guideline on Need and Desirability, 2017) wherein it states, “it must be decided which alternatives represent the “most practicable environmental option”, which in terms of the definition in NEMA and the purpose of the EIA Regulations, are that option that provides the most benefit and causes the least damage to the environment as a whole, at a cost acceptable to society, in the long-term as well as in the short-term.”
c. The issue of global warming is not broader than the scope of the BAR and should be centralised within it. There are existential issues at play that cannot be easily undone. It is trite that alternative sources of renewable energy could replace the reconnaissance for, and consumption of fossil fuels, whilst spurring economic growth in the urgent matter of cutting greenhouse gas emissions (Valli Moosa, deputy chairman of the Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission). On this basis of this alone, the authorisation should be reconsidered and set aside.
d. It is also trite that there are strategic and economic reasons to re-evaluate identifying oil and gas resources with a view to further exploration and production (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2022). These reasons include international gas phase-out pressure; reduced funding, increased cost of capital, carbon tax, trade taxes, etc. and that gas-functions in the electricity sector are already outcompeted, or expected, based on trends.[i]
e. Offshore hydrocarbon reconnaissance whose ultimate aim is the consumption of oil and methane gas in the years to come, is no longer a practice in societal development. The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) have weighed up the systemic risks of this aim as it relates to ocean systems and the climate crisis showing that it will increase climate harms,
i. altering winds, water temperatures, sea ice cover and ocean circulation;[ii],[iii]
ii. ocean acidification, which is now irreversible for centuries to come[iv];[v],[vi]
iii. altering the physiological functioning, behaviour, biological interactions, and productivity of organisms, which, in turn, could lead to shifts in marine life size structure, spatial range, seasonal abundance, community structure and ecosystem function;[vii]
iv. transferring nutrients from surface waters down into the deep ocean, leaving less at the surface to support plankton growth;[viii]
v. potentially suppressing marine biological productivity for a millennium; I
vi. ultimately destroying the fisheries and marine tourism industries of all countries, including South Africa, resulting in devastating job losses, food insecurity, and other adverse socioeconomic consequences;[ix], [x]
f. plus increase economic costs, and injustice will undermine the immediate realisation of viable alternatives (Singh. J et al, 2022). Ongoing threats from ghg emissions include,
vii. ocean deoxygenation[xi]
viii. sea level rise.[xii]
g. Impacts on coral reefs from marine heat waves (1980 to 2020) encompass coral bleaching records from 14 405 sites in 93 countries[xiii]. Since coral reefs create coastal protection, which provides food and income to humans, their destruction has systematic consequences. The top part of the ocean is warming up 24% faster than it did a few decades ago, and this is accelerating.
h. The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) report on The Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2020, utilising data from over 12,000 collection sites across 73 countries spanning from 1978 to 2019, claims the world has lost about 14% of its coral reefs since 2009. Over 25% of the ocean’s fish and over half a billion people currently rely on healthy coral reefs.
With this climate science as the actual baseline for this project, It is clear that there is no “need’ for this project in terms of the broader societal/ public interest nor in terms of the well-being of future generations. In fact, due to South Africa’s sensitivity to climate impacts ( and the BAR has not acknowledged that climate change is likely to have a significant impact on South Africa’s economy) there is a categoric need not to pursue the project.
4. REPEATED, PERSISTENT OR CUMULATIVE EXPOSURE IMPACTS
a. The BAR understates the compounding effects of multiple abiotic and biotic stressors associated with multiple 3D surveys being undertaken concurrently. Although the BAR acknowledges cumulative issues, it does not highlight that TEEPSA DWOB; Searcher and GX Technology Corporation all have pending applications which overlap the TGS proposed survey area and may occur simultaneously. The risks associated with compounded behavioural disturbance and how chronically-present sound could constitute a threat to populations by changing behaviour and distribution regularly at critical times and in critical areas. Parsons et al.(2009) warn that some of the more insidious and potentially devastating impacts arise through long-term, repeated, persistent or cumulative exposures.
i. A multiple survey interaction must be considered to clarify whether the interaction is synergistic, additive, or antagonistic.
b. Due to the frequency and enormous extent of the multi-client surveys and exploration planned for 2023-2024 the assumption that larger/more mobile and/or migratory animals will avoid and move away from seismic surveys needs serious revision.
i. Cumulative effects need to be broadened to encompass neighbouring seismic and exploration applications.
ii. Highly precautionary limits on the amounts of annual and concurrent survey activities should be prescribed.
5. UNJUSTIFIABLE IMPACTS TO EBSA’s and CBA NATURAL AND CBA RESTORE AREAS
a. Although the reconnaissance area does not directly overlap Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas, it is only logical that sound will infiltrate these areas given the known distances sound propagates through water. The proximity of this survey to our environmentally significant, i.e. Critical Biodiversity Areas (Natural) areas poses a great risk to our marine commons and heritage, the economic importance of our fisheries, and leisure and tourism industries dependent on functional healthy oceans. The results of this BAR should indicate accurate cause for concern for the critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species and their migration paths as well as the Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VME’s), and other threatened habitats in the overlapping area that will be subjected to the bombardment of this operation. All the above reasons warrant questioning the lack of a precautionary approach and the impact significance ratings given by this BAR based on minimal existing biological baseline data.
b. Furthermore, the survey area is at the edge of the EEZ and most likely the area where the least amount of research has been undertaken, together with the least amount of information available. Similarly, with fisheries, who struggle to enter these areas due to the cost of fuel – these areas are most-likely the only pristine areas left in the SA mainland EEZ (as identified in the CBA maps). It stands to reason that the impacts on fisheries and species may be high if these pristine areas were to be targeted.
6. MITIGATION EFFECTIVENESS WAS NOT ADDRESSED.
a. The recommendations on timing for the pelagic fisheries were ignored, refer to Capricorn Marine Environmental Pty Ltd – Commercial and Small-Scale Fisheries Report (p.94)”
b. The BAR continues to assume that “sound levels for the seismic survey could notionally be expected to attenuate to below levels for behavioural disturbance at a distance of 4 km from the source. The spatial extent of the impact of sound (produced by the airgun array) on catch rates is expected to be regional, although localised at any one time. The impact is considered to be of immediate duration and reversible without additional time or cost.“ This was dispelled by almost 2 decades ago by Madsen et al. (2006) who overturned this assumption finding high exposure levels at considerable ranges from the air-gun array and that received sound pressures and sound exposure levels may actually increase with range beyond 5 km range up to 12.6 km from source. Madsen et al. believe this high-frequency acoustic by-product on marine mammals should not be dismissed lightly and that it poses the challenge of how to mitigate where animals can dive in and out of high exposure levels at considerable ranges from the air-gun array[xiv]. This poses a particularly serious risk due to the vicinity of the survey to the shoreline, small-scale fisheries and critical marine biodiversity areas.
c. In South Africa, more conservative approaches to mitigation measures should be taken when in the vicinity of MPA’s and when threatened (vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered) species are being intercepted. The mitigation zone should be at least 1220m, the pre-startup watch period should be expanded to 120 minutes as a safeguard against any deep-diving whales’ being in the safety zone.
d. The BAR justifies low impact ratings to fisheries by claiming, “With the implementation of the project controls and mitigation measures, the residual impact due to seismic noise is considered to be of LOW NEGATIVE significance.” These ratings being opinion-based and have no biological or ecological evidence.
7. IMPACT ON LIVELIHOODS.
a. Please describe by name / brand and composition which dispersants would be “used cautiously” (Commercial and Small-Scale Fisheries Report, p.85) should there be an oil spill.
b. Please justify the “reversibility” (Commercial and Small-Scale Fisheries Report, p.85) of an oil spill which would extend between 5- 50kms from the site, on the fishing sector, by specifying how much “time and cost” might be “significant “enough.
c. Studies worldwide show that oil spills generate coastal impacts that can last many decades[xv]. Oil-polluted beaches, lagoons and estuarine wetlands rely chiefly on anaerobic degradation, which is slow. Below just 10–15 cm in beach sand and 2–3 cm in muddier sediments, oxygen levels plummet, and from these anoxic layers, pockets of oil can leach toxicants for decades.[xvi] In addition to costs incurred by cleanup activities, serious economic losses can be experienced by tourism-dependent businesses, industries and individuals dependent on coastal resources
d. There is a failure by the BAR to deal adequately with cost benefit analysis in the event of a spill and the consequences thereof on private individuals, the commercial sector and on the ecosystem itself. The effect of a spill on climate change is not addressed at all. No reference is made to how these affected systems will be compensated in the event of an oil spill.
e. A full analysis of the fisheries and their catch composition per month should be indicated in the BAR so stakeholders can be fully briefed of potential impacts and implications of the fishing sector not being able to enter their fishing areas.
f. Evidence that the Fisheries sector have been fully consulted and are in full support of the Seismic survey should be written into the BAR. Up to now, fisheries appear to have had little to no say that their areas are being intercepted but are expected to stay out of the areas.
g. The fishery that will be the greatest impacted is most likely the tuna pole fishery. This fishery is the most ecologically and environmentally friendly fishery of all SA fishery types, but it is also the fishery where the catch season is between October to December which is within the exploration period. This fishery spends most of its time at sea searching for fish with actual fishing events taking place over a relatively short period of time. This fishery will be severely disadvantaged being unable to work in their operational areas.
h. The BAR references an Australian study where impacts to their tuna industry couldn’t be disentangled from catch variability and stock declines. However, a localized West Coast context study provides important reasons for caution:
i.According to Russell (2018), The west coast tuna pole and line fishery showed localised impacts revealing that an 84% decline in tuna catches (650 tonnes in 2013 from 4,046 tonnes in 2011) was a result of an increase in seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Orange River Basin driving tuna from their normal migratory routes forcing them to move on [xvii] and in 2017 catches dropped off to non-commercial catch rates.
ii Further to this:
Engås et al (1996) stands as the most definitive study to document what has long been observed by fishermen: When seismic surveys are taking place, the fish leave the area[xviii].
I Without an SEA how will communities establish and dialogue around a compensation scheme and conditions to secure the on-going functionality of these fishing sectors and to avoid devastating capital losses in the event of decline in catches or displacement of species or fisheries?
j. Where are EIMS actual mitigation measures and recommendations?
k. Taking this into account, all-inclusive seafood supply chain stakeholder engagement will be necessary, in all relevant languages to secure the on-going functionality of these fishing sectors and to avoid devastating capital losses. Discussion around a compensation scheme and conditions of compensation is imperative.
8. NO-GO ALTERNATIVE
a. In assessing the no-go alternative, inconsistent timeframes to the benefits and risks of the former in relation to the project are applied. The potential economic benefits of extraction and production—something that is not within the scope of the BAR—are taken into account while the negative consequences of extraction and production – such as toxic, radioactive waste, oil spills and global warming do not factor into the analysis. As such, the assessment incorporates inappropriate content that results in a flawed outcome. In other words, the risks of not proceeding with the no-go alternative are significantly understated.
b. The BAR promotes the assumed “benefits” of the project, instead of appraising the full ecological and socio-economic cost, including hazard and externality costs, and evaluating whether there is a need for this project in the context of this total cost. Alternatives to the extraction of fossil fuels (no-go options) aren’t properly explored.
The BAR has been shown to be neither comprehensive nor technically robust thereby not meeting its terms of reference or providing the required information for decision making. In light of this, it is requested that the application be withdrawn until the process can result in full consideration of all relevant information on the affected environment, of proposed alternatives and their impacts, and of the measures necessary to monitor and investigate residual effects.
We look forward to your most urgent response.
 TGS BAR, piii.
 Founding provisions in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996)
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[xvii] Engås, A., Løkkeborg, S., Ona, E. and Soldal, A.V., 1996. Effects of seismic shooting on local abundance and catch rates of cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus). Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sc. 53(10): 2238-2249
[xvii] Russell, D. (2018). Assessing the impact of seismic surveys on South African Fisheries. A report for WWF-SA. 194pp.
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This is excellent work, comprehensive and clear. One can only hope that it is received with the same focus and clarity with which it was written. Much resoect to the authors and all involved!