Skip to content

ONO Objects to Oil & Gas Sector Plan (Marine Spatial Planning)

Oceans Not Oil submission: DRAFT MARINE SECTOR PLANS: MARINE SPATIAL PLANNING ACT, 2018 (ACT NO. 16 OF 2018), includes endorsement by Greenpeace Africa and Extinction Rebellion South Africa ( see below)

We thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Draft Marine Sector Plans. Below you’ll find our comments and main areas of concern, which include:


1.1. Who decides on and defines “all relevant public and private stakeholders during the preparation of the Marine Sector Plans “(p.5.) for collaboration?
Please make this clear for the public.

1.2. How public participation functions for these sector plans lacks transparency.

1.2.1.How is consensus achieved?
1.2.2.Is there an appeal process?

1.2.3.The Marine Oil and Gas Sector map should show production and prospecting zoning of our ocean, except prospecting zones weren’t shown in this public interest document “due to sensitivity”. The more trustworthy map showing prospecting dominance over our seas is easily available on the Petroleum Agency South Africa’s (PASA) website. PASA’s map reveals the potential power relations anticipated for our ocean commons, carving up over 90% of it for prospecting blocks, with currently

twenty active exploration and seven production rights. This means the Marine Oil and Gas Sector dwarfs nine other sectors: marine biodiversity, tourism, transport, marine cultural heritage, defence, science and innovation, aquaculture, and wild fisheries.

Please clarify this for the South African public including those dependent on the sea for livelihoods.

1.3. There is no timeframe to the binding nature of the zoning. Is this reviewed every five years?

1.4.  Who decides that a zone allocation is no longer relevant or binding, and how will this be managed?

1.5.  What value is given to environmental subjects, and how would the worth of saving an endangered species be evaluated in terms of zoning priorities?

1.6.  Why is there an Oil and Gas Sector but not an Energy Sector? Why are ocean-based renewables not considered?

1.7.  Why does the Petroleum Agency South Africa and the oil and gas license holder decide where a new Marine Protected Area is situated?


In South Africa the sea is integral to the culture, tradition, religion and livelihood of many of its peoples. Its importance to local/South African tangible and intangible heritage was evidenced in recent court cases, namely:

a)  Gongqose v Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2018) 5 SA 104 (SCA)
b)  South Durban Community Environmental Alliance et al. V Minister of Environment, Forestry andFisheries & Others, (2021) Case No. 29433/21
c)  Sustaining the Wild Coast NPC and Others vs. Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy and Others.(2021) Case No. 3491/2021
d)  Christian John Adams & Others v Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy & Others. (2022) Case No.1306/22

These cases hinge/d on the failure to recognise how integrated coastal communities are with the sea and their lack of inclusion in decision making.

2.1. To have produced a document of the gravity and consequence of the MSP Sector Plans without acknowledgement of the needs of the people of South Africa; and how deep the knowledge systems are, pertaining to the sea, and what value these systems are to South Africa, communities and marine/ biodiversity, is undemocratic, short-sighted and a fundamental flaw. coastal

2.2.  Without a sector wherein access to marine resources for reasons of tangible and intangible heritage are clarified, how are the effects of zoning/ planning to be anticipated?

2.3.  This omission prevents understanding how intangible and tangible knowledge systems might contribute to climate adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity protection and tourism in the future.

We suggest that, since the introduction to the Sector Plans explains the ‘zones’ are intended “to ensure and enable sustained provision of the marine (and coastal) ecosystem services harnessed by marine users (e.g. clean water, food, cultural, spiritual, recreational)”, a sector is developed to ensure such.


3.1 Spatial regulations
Table 3. 
List of sea-use activities and their compatibility with the management objectives of the biodiversity


3.1.1 Petroleum: exploration (non-invasive)

Please define further what “non-invasive” exploratory operations are, and which would not negatively impact Biodiversity Conservation Areas, Biodiversity Restoration Areas, Biodiversity Impact Management Areas?

Exploratory seismic surveys, Vertical Seismic Profiling, Multibeam Bathymetric Surveys and drilling are all invasive and all require mitigation. Oceans Not Oil objects to any oil and gas sector activity planned in these areas. That the oil and gas sector plan intends to colonise the EEZ area plan with 93+% and to further impact these zones which are set aside for protection from activities exactly like these, with a mere 5% allocation, is totally unacceptable.

3.1.2 Petroleum: exploration (invasive)

That the Department of Environment has tabled consideration of any oil and gas activity, especially invasive ones, planned in these Natural Areas, which are wildlife sanctuaries, is deeply concerning. Oceans Not Oil objects to this inclusion. Invasive, and all, oil and gas operations cannot be included in these zones without compromising their function.


4.1.  The purpose of the MSP Bill was to migrate from single-sector planning and permitting, to integrated and coordinated planning and permitting. While the offshore oil and gas sector is allocated over 90 % in spatial zoning and regulatory benefits, this migration has served the undemocratic purpose of rendering significantly unequal access to resources from the South African ocean commons by multinational oil corporations, and remains in essence single -sector planning and therefore illegitimate.

4.2.  The Department of Environment is bound to an environmental custodianship obligation (Mokaba 1997). To pursue granting over 90% of 1.5 million km2 magnitude of the South African ocean commons to Phakisa’s oil and gas zoning, plus granting license holders “primary use” and “an enabling environment”,

4.2.1.whilst it is accepted that the sea and many of its inhabitants don’t adhere to ‘zones’ and neither does crude oil nor natural gas when it leaks;

4.2.2.whilst South Africa has international commitments that are incompatible with the purpose of the Oil and Gas Sector Plan, namely United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 1997, the Kyoto Protocol 2002, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change 2016, Global Biodiversity Framework adopted at COP15 in Montreal 2022,

4.2.3.whilst there is no overarching National Environmental Management of the Oceans Act (White Paper approved, 4 December 2013) under which the MSP and Sector plans should sit, following sound ecosystem-based principles to inform all sector planning;

4.2.4.whilst the National Development Plan (Republic of South Africa 2017) proposes that Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) should be conducted in order to plan for sustainable use of the ocean environment, yet no SEA has been conducted for the offshore oil and gas sector. A SEA is a critical way to anticipate, avoid and manage risks to people and the environment. It flows directly from the Constitutional right to an environment not harmful to health and wellbeing;

4.2.5.whilst there has been no sector wide Cost Benefit Analysis there can be no formal assessment of the need and desirability to substantiate the state’s claims of economic development, job creation, economic stimulus nor details of how this extremely risk-tolerant plan, and the oil and gas sector, will uplift the socio-economic circumstances of most South Africans;

4.2.6.whilst the sector does not have the social license to operate;

a)  Three offshore oil and gas related court cases to date (see 2b),2c) and 2d) above), have taken the ministers ( DMRE and DFFE) and developers to court to demand the minister engage the ‘no-go’ option to stop development before it starts. The applicants represent a large number of communities and organisation and they span South Africa’s coastline (North East, East and West Coasts),

b)  Oceans Not Oil’s nearly 500 000 signatures petition, Coast,

c) The SIA produced for the Searcher Geodata UK Ltd (hereafter Searcher) application off the Western and Northern Cape coasts of South Africa (Aucamp and Aucamp 2022:111) states, “from a social perspective it is clear that the communities and majority of local people are opposed to the project”, recommending that Searcher reassesses its “social license to operate”,

4.2.7.whilst the minister acknowledges that oil and gas Operation Phakisa is running behind schedule as a decarbonizing mission, but consequences to climate change commitments remain unexplained and unconsidered;

4.2.8.whilst the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Code Red for Humanity report made abundantly clear the urgency of immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emission, therefore the time frame feasibility of exploring to develop supply of additional hydrocarbons that only come online for production in decades from now, needs urgent, quantitative definition in relation to carbon neutrality;

4.2.9.whilst South Africa has no coast guard to speak of;

4.2.10.  whilst South Africa has no consolidated National Oil Spill Plan;

4.2.11.  whilst South Africa has not the resources at local level to deal with containment of a well blowout;

4.2.12.  whilst the vision for Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is of “a productive, healthy and safe ocean that is

accessible, understood, equitably governed and sustainably developed and managed for the benefit of all” (Department of Environmental Affairs 2017)

4.2.13. whilst the MSP aims are the sustained provision of the marine (and coastal) ecosystem services harnessed by marine users e.g. clean water, food, cultural, spiritual, recreational);

4.2.14. whilst “survival of the fishing industry is a matter of national importance”(Thulare 2022);

4.2.15. whilst Howarth et al., (Howarth 2014; 2021; 2019) show that the radiative forcing of methane means its larger global warming role (Howarth 2014) than coal or oil “for any possible use of natural
” (Howarth 2014). Further, pursual of this Oil and Gas Sector Plan will not align with the third instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) requiring “immediate and deep” cuts in emissions everywhere;

4.2.16. whilst scientific consensus warns that continued oil and gas exploration and production exacerbates effects to ocean warming (Rogelj et al. 2018). The sea is experiencing record and unprecedented warming (Climate Change Institute 2023; Cheng 2019) since it has absorbed over ninety percent of the excess heat trapped by human emissions of greenhouse gases (g.h.g.);

4.2.17. whilst scientific consensus warns that continued oil and gas exploration and production exacerbates sea level rise (Tokarska et al. 2019; Poloczanska 2018). RSA has a coastline of 2800kms vulnerable to sea level rise. A just transition to climate-resilient coastal communities will require serious focus by government to move from failure of implementation to proactive risk informed development;

4.2.18. whilst scientific consensus warns that continued oil and gas exploration and production exacerbates ocean acidification (Feely, Doney, and Cooley 2009), which reduces calcification rates for shell needing animals; and reduces growth, production and life spans of these animals, changes to behaviour responses, fitness and survival, species biogeography, food webs, shifts diversity and changes marine ecosystem goods & services to the people of South Africa (Wilkinson 2000; Kurihara 2008);

4.2.19. whilst scientific consensus warns that continued oil and gas exploration and production exacerbates ocean oxygen loss (Poloczanska 2018; Doney et al. 2009; Alteri, Nelson, and Gedan 2019);

4.2.20. whilst scientific consensus warns that continued oil and gas exploration and production will disrupt global weather, by exacerbating ocean warming, impacting ocean and terrestrial biodiversity (Moore 2018; Masson-Delmotte et al. 2018);

4.2.21. whilst Song et al. (2023) show that if no action is taken to curb anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the global average temperature would rise to an estimated 3.28 °C (2.46–4.10 °C) above its pre-industrial level while the global sea level would be an estimated 573 mm (474–671 mm) above its 2021 mean by 2100;

4.2.22. whilst 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(Wilkinson 2000);

4.2.23.  whilst neither oil nor gas is essential to address South Africa’s energy challenges;

4.2.24.  whilst delays affecting Phakisa’s oil and gas production ambitions risk inconsistency with the South

Africa’s binding carbon budget peak-plateau-decline (PPD) emissions trajectory, pushing peaking well past Net Zero in 2050; maintaining existing carbon lock-in inequalities whilst generating new ones (Atteridge and Strambo 2020; Kartha et al. 2019);

4.2.25. Whilst there is no provision made to provide for the legal withdrawal, repeal or expropriation of existing reconnaissance and rights;

the state risks not only the safety of those it is bound to protect, but its own legitimacy through loss of trust of the nation, since the constitutional rights of the public, are in jeopardy should this sector be authorised.

4.3. The minister must substantiate with empirical evidence how “an industry which delivers effective risk management across all its operations and which is especially vigilant in testing operational impacts on current and future environments” will be created, given that,

4.3.1.South Africa has a policy of dumping drill wastes at sea – lubricants are typically dumped as liquid

waste. This poses severe environmental damage in the form of soil degradation, water contamination and interference with ecosystem balance. Lubricants, both used and fresh, can cause considerable damage to the environment mainly due to their high potential for severe water pollution. In addition, the additives contained in these products can be toxic to flora and fauna. In recycled fluids, the oxidation products can be highly toxic as well. Dilution does not stop these chemicals being very dangerous.

4.3.2.South Africa has a turbulent coast with many ship wrecks. Some of the envisioned wells will be at pioneer depths in the fastest western boundary current in the world and there is an empirical relationship between the depth of drilling operations and the frequency of accidents during drilling operations (Cordes et al. 2016).

4.3.3.Climate change blows open risk mitigation since how the ocean may behave in the near future is unchartered territory and essentially an unmanageable risk.

4.3.4.Please provide specifics about how effective risk management is going to be imposed on industry operations when an enabling environment has already created?

4.3.5.How was allowing Total to bring a rig into South African waters that couldn’t withstand the turbulence (2014) risk management? (Offshore Engineer 2018)

4.3.6.Which government agency, with what capacity and budget will be tasked with risk management?

4.3.7.Which government agency will be tasked with testing operational impacts?

4.3.8.Oil corporations which have benefited from the exploitation or production of hydrocarbons will bear responsibility for decommissioning and any clean-up of this required. What happens when these corporations are liquidated before such?

4.3.9.We have a litany of thousands of abandoned coal and gold mines on land, how is best standard decommissioning and restoration going to be guaranteed at sea?

5. To conflate the exploitation of fossil fuels with sustainable, economic development facilitates marginalisation of the climate crisis, disrespects millions of South Africans who view the sea as sacred and is the crudest of nationalisms. A strategic objective to escalate and “maximise” oil and gas production, with the assumption that South Africa can burn all proven reserves, along with any additional reserves discovered, falls foul of the best available science which should be the foundation of the Marine Sector Plans.

6. The climate science is clear that new fossil fuel development (including methane with its considerably higher global warming potential and tendency to leak) pose a threat to South Africa’s Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPPC) climate goals. Ending methane, coal and oil development is key to meeting these goals.Operation Phakisa’s Oil and Gas Stream is not sustainable, is significantly harmful to marine and land bio-webs, comes with extreme climate and environmental risks, risks to fisheries and tourism and makes a mockery of the sound environmental management function provided for in Section 24 of the Bill of Rights.For all the above reasons, we look forward to your most urgent response.

One thought on “ONO Objects to Oil & Gas Sector Plan (Marine Spatial Planning) Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: