ems foundation logo

CONTROVERSIAL SEISMIC OIL AND GAS SURVEYANCE IN SOUTH AFRICA

THE DEAL

Jacob Zuma’s Operation Phakisa 

In August 2013 President Jacob Zuma visited Malaysia where he was, apparently, inspired by the Malaysian government’s Fast Results Methodology, this approach was adapted to the South African context. 

Operation Phakisa focused on unlocking the economic potentials of South African oceans.  Offshore oil and gas extraction was one of the four areas where this potential was identified. President Jacob Zuma said that the ocean around the southern tip of Africa could contribute around a million jobs via shipbuilding and mineral resource extraction by 2033. 

Silver Wave Energy Company Limited 

Prior to the announcement of Operation Phakisa initiatives, South Africa awarded offshore petroleum exploration rights to Silver Wave Energy Company Limited.

The Silver Wave Energy Company was established in Singapore and registered on the 25th May 2005, their main purpose was to enter onshore and offshore Petroleum Exploration and Production business in Myanmar and foreign countries. 

Silver Wave was awarded the South African exploration blocks during the fourth offshore licensing round of the Petroleum agency of South Africa in December 2009.

Impact Oil and Gas

Impact Oil and Gas, the oil and gas exploration company announced the acquisition with Singapore based Silver Wave and Energy of a 80% working interest in, and operatorship of, Exploration Licenses covering four blocks in the Tugela area of the south east coast of South Africa. These blocks are 2931C, 2931D, 2932C and 2932A.  

The timing is curious, in March 2010 Impact Oil & Gas was formed and the option agreement with Silver Wave was signed. Exploration Licenses covering the four blocks were awarded red to Silver Wave in May 2011. 

Royal Dutch Shell 

It was announced on the 4th November 2020 that Impact Oil and Gas entered into agreements with a Royal Dutch Shell PLC subsidiary and Silver Wave Energy Pte Ltd involving working interest and operatorship in exploration areas offshore South Africa.  

Shell acquired a 50% working interest and operatorship in the Transkei and Algoa blocks, which are respectively located in the Natal Trough Basin and South Outeniqua Basin.  

Impact Oil and Gas also struck a deal with Silver Wave Energy for the farm-in of a 90% working interest and operatorship of Area 2, located offshore in the Southern African Aptian deep-water oil and gas play, immediately east and adjacent to the Transkei and Algoa blocks. 

Shearwater GeoServices

Norwegian seismic exploration company Shearwater GeoServices has secured a contract to carry out a “major” three dimensional seismic exploration survey offshore South Africa.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPERATIVES

Identifying, understanding and complying with environmental legislation should present the greatest challenges to the South African government, to industry and developers today.  All future development in South Africa should be critically and transparently examined every single should be environmentally sustainable.  There can be no situation where the short-term benefits are outweighed by environmental risk.

South African law has both public legal provisions and private legal remedies for environmental transgressions.  There is also provision for the application of African Customary Law and common law where legislation is lacking. 

Background to the Environmental Impact Assessment Process

The South African National Environmental Management Act NEMA (Act No. 107 of 1998) Regulations, 2014 as amended in 2017, this aforementioned project would have required an Environmental Authorisation from the National Department of Mineral Resources, through the Petroleum Agency South Africa.  

The project is an offshore oil and gas project, the Department of Mineral Resources is the competent authority which means that it has powers to either authorise the development or refuse it.

The Minister of Mineral Resources evaluates the recommendations made by the Petroleum Agency South Africa who reviews the applications and enters into negotiations with the applicants.  

In the Department of Mineral Resources Annual Report 2010/2011 it stated that the Council for Geoscience had almost completed a business case analysis for South Africa to implement a national offshore mapping programme for future mineral exploration and extraction, energy resources both renewable and non-renewable , commercial and recreational fishing, coastal engineering, environmental conservation, transport and navigation, microbial resources and academic research. 

Environmental Impact Management Services consultants are required to act independently and objectively and must have no business, financial, personal or other interest in the activity, the application or appeal in respect of the project at hand nor any downstream interest in the development. The role of the environmental consultants is to provided credible, objective and accessible information to government and other stakeholders, so that an informed decision can be made about whether the project should proceed or not. 

Concern for Operation Phakisa’s Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration Projects Prior to Signing of the Second Renewal Licence 

On the 1st February 2011 a formal request was sent to the Minister of Mineral Resources, Susan Shabangu and the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa amongst others by the Centre of Environmental Rights in South Africa.  The Minister was requested to exercise her discretion under Section 49 of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act to Biodiversity Sensitivity

On the 4th August 2015 at a parliamentary meeting  it was confirmed that the Department of Mineral Resources is attempting to develop oil and gas drilling in South Africa through Operation Phakisa with the aims to have 30 wells built in 10 years. Questions were raised at this meeting about the viability of the project. 

On the 15th of October 2015 Jacob Zuma outlined ambitious plans to Malaysian officials for oil and gas exploration in coastal waters that he said contain as much as 9 million barrels of crude and vast quantities of natural gas. 

Oil firms were at that stage cautiously waiting for the petroleum bill to be signed into law.  This law automatically gives the State a twenty percent stake in new gas and oil exploration ventures.   

According to environmental activist organisation, during 2016 a seismic survey was granted during the whale migration period, the highest-ever recorded whale and dolphin stranding took place along the South African coast. 

Professor Nadine Strydom, an associate professor in the Department of Zoology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, in the Eastern Cape said five years ago, in February 2016 that South Africa’s fish were in dire straits. “Wherever there is pressure to make money off the ocean we need to make sure we are sensitive to the renewability of resources. We already have huge problems with overfishing and a lack of law enforcement.  We need to ensure economic decision or Phakisa initiative, is not made in the stead of environmentally sound thinking, existing renewable ocean resources are already collapsing, there is little leeway for making mistakes, we are harvesting to the maximum, there are not many resources to go around anymore.”

The administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa has seen the withdrawal the aforementioned Petroleum Resources Bill in 2018. According the research carried out by the EMS Foundation, the principal legislation governing the exploration and production of oil and natural gas is the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 2002. 

The South African government published the Draft Upstream Petroleum Resources Development Bill 2019, for Public Comment. 

CONCLUSION

According to Eloise Costandius of SLR Consulting the seismic exploration survey area stretches from Port St Johns and Morgans Bay. The survey area is located more than 20km from the coast with water depths of between 700 and 3000 meters.  The seismic survey will take four to five months to complete.  

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment published a statement on the 22nd November 2021 stating that the Minister of Minerals Resources and Energy is responsible for the administration of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 2002.  However, for the reasons that we have set out in this document and in light of the devastating environmental consequences of the UPL Cornubia disaster in KwaZulu Natal we believe that DFFE should consider supporting a moratorium on all offshore oil and gas development until an urgent independent environmental investigation is carried out. 

The EMS Foundation urges members of the public to sign the petition initiated by the Oceans Not Oil coalition of individuals and organisations calling for the moratorium on all offshore oil and gas development in South Africa which has already been signed by more than a quarter of a million people.

https://www.change.org/p/shearwater-geoservices-shearwatergeo-and-shell-stop-blasting-the-wild-coast-our-voices-can-make-a-difference-and-put-an-end-to-shell-blasting-in-the-wild-coast

As a founding member of the Wildlife Animal Protection Forum South Africa, the EMS Foundation has also supported their sign-on open letter which can be found here:

This issue puts into sharp focus the intersection and commonalities of human, environmental and animal rights concerns. Together we can stop them. Together, through the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things, we must work for a One Health approach.  

Image Credit: Oceans Not Oil Organisation

©The EMS Foundation 2021. All Rights Reserved.