The ultimate objective of Oceans Not Oil is the end of seismic exploration and oil and gas exploitation off our coastline, inspiring South African policy makers to build an economy beyond oil and deal with climate change vulnerability that is the legacy of oil.
We need social opposition to change government mindset. The New Zealand government has recently stood up to big oil, one of the most powerful industries in the world, banning all new offshore oil exploration as part of a ‘carbon-neutral’ future. They have committed to transition to 100% of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2035 and making their economy carbon neutral by 2050.
Ending new fossil fuel exploitation and exploration in South African waters is a cornerstone to tackling our commitments to climate change, plus it reduces the risk of oil spills and removes the sonic barrage of seismic testing.
While we work towards this goal much needs changing in current legislation around offshore mining to protect of the oceans and its inhabitants.
Oceans Not Oil is calling for:
- Environmental Impact Assessments for Reconnaissance Permit applications
Oceans Not Oil is calling for the reinstatement of sections 38 & 39 of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act, along with the oil “reconnaissance” (seismic surveys) being identified once more as an identified scheduled activity (National Environmental Management Act) requiring Environmental Impact Assessment regulation.This important environmental legislation was repealed in 2014 with the formation of the One Environmental System. At the time 98% of South Africa’s exclusive economic zone was subject to a right or lease for offshore oil and gas exploration or production and while some areas have been relinquished the vast majority of the EEZ remains open to exploitation while less than 0.4% has been set aside for protection.Reinstating this legislation will ensure that Environmental Management Plans remain imperative and the measure for compliance for the oil and gas industry. ONO members are unanimous in their resolve that this system needs to be challenged from a constitutional position to ensure that respective government department’s constitutionally prescribed mandates are not undermined in the interests of expedience/profit and at the cost of sound environmental management.When the Minister of Mineral Resources authorizes seismic applications which no longer require Environmental Impact Assessments, this is contrary to the provisions of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) and the provisions of the Constitution and should be legally challenged.
2. A Review of the legitimacy of the Permitting process
2.1. In accordance with mandate, as prescribed by the constitution, the approving authority for environmental authorizations applications should be the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and not with the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).
2.2. The Petroleum Agency South Africa (PASA) expedites the issuance of licenses and environmental authorizations yet its primary mandate is to facilitate the growth of the oil and gas sector.
2.3.An independent body should oversee and autonomously verify the results of scoping reports, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and Environmental Management Plans/Programmes (EMP/ EMPrs) presently done by consultants being paid by oil companies. This would uphold objectivity and ensure that the environmental concerns uncovered during these exercises are reported and not subverted.
3. Improvement to the public consultation process
The fairness of the public consultation process remains contentious considering present language barriers, excessive jargon, lack of access to news media and lack of effort to engage and inform rural communities.
4. Increased efforts to decrease intensity of impact to marine animals
Current mitigation guidelines offer a ‘common sense’ approach to noise mitigation, but in light of recent research, they should be updated, to ensure adequate species protection and across a range of species and not only large mobile animals.
Seismic surveys and bathymetric multibeam sonar acquisition are man-made sonic phenomena that are actively pursued for their powerful effective qualities. Existing guidelines do not offer adequate protection to marine turtles and mammals, given the complex propagation of airgun pulses; the side-lobes of unknown energy and propagation of multibeam sonar operations, the difficulty of monitoring deep-diving species, such as beaked whales ; limitations in monitoring requirements; lack of baseline data; and other biological and acoustic complications or unknowns.
Establish a hearing threshold-based safety zone during seismic survey activities, based on a range of sound and pressure thresholds by various vertebrate and invertebrate species.
The impacts of multibeam bathymetric sonar is completely ignored in current mitigation measures and should be considered and included together with other ocean noise which contributes to sound in the water.
5. Establishment of 22 Marine Protected Areas
‘Renewable’ ocean resources are already collapsing. South Africa has a problem with overfishing and a lack of law enforcement. As part of Operation Phakisa and to ensure the sustainable use of South Africa’s oceans in light of the increasing economic demands on the environment, 22 Marine Protected Areas (MPA) were proposed in 2016. These areas aimed to protect 5% of South Africa’s oceans and were carefully placed around the country to ensure protection of the diverse range of habitats and species within our waters. These MPAs underwent a public participation process and the required comment period but to date have not been promulgated. Negotiations with other departments on these identified areas continues, despite the current and pertinent need for greater protection of our resources. In the meantime, resources use and seismic surveys continue unabated along the entire length of the coastline with very little refuge areas from such activities. It is imperative that these proposed areas be promulgated to provide greater protections to South Africa’s ocean resources and Oceans Not Oil will continue to encourage the Department of Environmental Affairs to fulfil their mandate of sustainable use by declaring a representative network and working towards achieving the ARCHI targets. Oceans Not Oil will also ask questions as to why these MPAs have not been declared and why the negotiation process which is continuing with sister departments has not yielded any results.