Search for gas, oil soon begins on shore


Great unhappiness reigns over two organizations that in recent months have been given the green light to carry out seismic activities on the South African coast.

A seismic survey to search for natural gas and crude oil will soon be undertaken on the east coast after the Department of Mineral Resources granted approval for this to the geophysical research company CGG Services SAS (CGG).

An Australian company, Searcher Geodata, which is based in Britain, is also planning to start a seismic survey on the West Coast in January.

Although these companies claim that the damage to marine animals will be minimal, experts believe that the impact of this on marine life is still significant.

That is why communities and environmental groups are once again rebelling nationwide against these efforts to search for gas and oil on the South African coast.

Jacob Mbele, Director General of the Department of Mineral Resources, said in his authorization to CGG that the department is satisfied with the information provided to him on the proposed seismic survey and that it “does not present any adverse risks to the environment and the public”.

Shock waves will be fired on the seabed between Gqeberha and Plettenberg Bay for about five months to search for gas and oil.

The shock waves will emit continuous seismic sounds at 255 decibels to create a three-dimensional map of the seabed and underlying geology. It becomes dangerous for humans to hear any sounds above 150 decibels, as they can be as loud as fireworks and gunshots.

CGG says its search for gas and oil is believed to help realize a carbon-free world faster in the fight against climate change.

Should no appeal be filed against the upcoming seismic survey, CGG will begin in January to conduct surveys in water depths of between 200 m and more than 4,000 m. Parties have until December 13 to appeal against the environmental authorization.

Peter Mbelengwa, spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said when asked that his department would continue to deal with any appeals.

‘Mitigation measures reduce impact’

Seismic noise made on the seabed can affect marine life in a number of different ways, but according to CGG Services SAS’ environmental impact study, its mitigation measures will help mitigate the risks.

According to the study, shock waves can affect marine animals’ hearing and communication skills, as well as cause behavioral changes.

Janet Solomon, founder of the conservation organization Oceans not Oil, says that marine animals that are particularly dependent on their hearing to communicate, determine direction, find food or escape from predators at an early stage, can become deaf and slowly die.

In addition, essential organisms such as plankton and coral can be completely wiped out.

Nico Booyens, marine biologist and chief researcher at the shark research unit in Mossel Bay, says his biggest concern is the sharks, specifically great white sharks that move along the south-eastern parts of the coast. He suspects that seismic activity could drive these animals further north.

“The fact of the matter is that repeated shock waves are simply not good for marine animals that are sensitive to sound.”

However, CGG Services SAS says that due to the implementation of its mitigation measures, the dangers to whales, dolphins, sea turtles and fish are “low” and the dangers to seabirds, seals and plankton are “very low”.

This is because, first of all, the company will not conduct the seismic survey during the main migration period for whales – which is from June to the end of November – and the breeding season of fish and cicadas – from September to December.

“An hour-long search period for marine animals will also take place before the start of the surveys,” says the environmental impact study.

“There will also be continuous monitoring of whether marine life is within 800 m of the active seismic sound source. If marine animals are present, the survey will be temporarily stopped.”

The company says it has also provided for the fishing sector and has come to the conclusion that the impact on this sector will be “extremely low”. He undertook, however, to communicate continuously with shipping vessels and to make the necessary resources available to deal with complaints about the survey.

‘Keep your hands off our coastline’

The above measures are apparently not enough to reassure environmentalists.

In an open letter, the Plettenberg Bay Community Environment Forum asked the Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde, to raise communities’ concerns about seismic surveys to the national government.

“The coast of South Africa is facing an onslaught by multinational companies, who want to use South Africa in their mad grab for resources, and ultimately money,” the letter reads.

The non-profit organisation, Protect the West Coast (PTWC), even planned a national march for Saturday in an effort “to unite the country against the search for gas and oil on South Africa’s coast”.

“Multinational corporations, including Shell, Qatar, Total Energies and contractors such as CGG and Searcher Geodata, are among the focal points of the latest round of public outrage,” says PTWC.

Searcher Geodate tried to start a seismic survey on the West Coast last year, but was stopped by an interdict obtained in March last year in the Western Cape High Court by small-scale fishermen and the civil rights organization We Are South Africans.

However, in December last year, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy granted approval after a new application was submitted.

Fishing communities are concerned that the survey could have a major impact on the number of fish in the area, and therefore endanger their livelihood.

“These communities do not have much confidence in the studies that have been undertaken to determine the impact on their livelihoods,” Liz McDaid, spokeswoman for the pressure group Green Connection, told GroundUp.

The pressure group appealed after Searcher received its environmental clearance, but it was dismissed. Green Connection now intends to obtain a legal opinion to determine whether it can apply for an interdict before the seismic survey begins on January 1.

For the interdict to be granted, it must differ from the appeal that Green Connection submitted to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment at the time. It must also have a “reasonable prospect of success”, but “time is ticking,” says McDaid.

  • Additional source: GroundUp.