Jul 29, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Just months after Guyana had seen its first climate change case filed against the oil and gas companies operating here, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) of South Africa has taken the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, to court over her decision to authorise oil and gas exploration off the KwaZulu-Natal Coast.
The SDCEA filed an extensive review application in the Pretoria high court in June, challenging the authorisation given to Eni South Africa and Sasol for their planned venture in offshore block ER236, off the KwaZulu-Natal Coast.
The alliance, represented by environmental law specialists Cullinan & Associates, noted that the review application is “a watershed” case because it “stands to influence how, and whether if at all,” deep-sea exploration and production in South Africa will be conducted.
In court papers, the SDCEA details how the potential drilling sites are located close to several marine protected areas, critical biodiversity zones and ecologically and biologically significant areas. It also produced several reports it has commissioned which highlights deficiencies in the final environmental impact assessment report, including the failure to properly assess the effects on marine protected areas, critical biodiversity sites and ecologically and biologically significant zones.
Marine scientist, Jean Harris, the executive director of Wildoceans, notes how four of these marine protected areas — Protea Banks, uThukela, Pondoland and Aliwal Shoal — “are close enough to the proposed drilling sites…to make them vulnerable to persistent degradation and damage from day-to-day operational oil leakages and smaller spills that are well documented to occur, in addition to them being at significant risk should a major oil spill incident happen.”
The drilling sites were being pursued “in an area of extremely dynamic coastal processes,” where wind, swell and currents collide. This increased the risk of damage to the installations and consequently the risk of a major oil spill, she said, which would “cause long-lasting adverse effects for both people in coastal communities as well as to the non-human organisms that are part of the whole community.”
These areas will also bear the effect of “other associated activities such as seismic surveys and increased shipping activities.”
In another report, Simon Elwen, a marine ecologist and research associate in the department of zoology and biology at Stellenbosch University, noted how the planned hydrocarbon extraction “will lay the foundation for further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in both marine and terrestrial ecosystems.”
He said marine protected areas remain vulnerable to effects well outside their boundaries because of the “fluid and interconnected nature of the ocean and most life within it. These boundaries are completely pervious to noise, chemical spills, water degradation and solid pollution, which may move in or out of these areas with currents and tides leading Mr. Elwen to conclude that the “activities hundreds and even thousands of kilometers away can affect the overall habitat quality within these areas.”
Desmond D’Sa, the coordinator of the SDCEA, said in his founding affidavit that the authorisation of new oil and gas activities runs contrary to South Africa’s climate change commitments, including its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.
“The exploratory activities are intended to lead to future production of oil and/or gas, which would serve to exacerbate fossil fuel dependency, and increase South Africa’s vulnerability to climate change impacts due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, with devastating adverse climate change impacts.”
Creecy’s department said it has filed a notice to oppose the review application. “The department cannot comment on the merits of the application at this stage as it is currently compiling the record of decision,” it said.
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