OFFSHORE EXPLORATION: Civil society braces for battle after another seismic blasting survey authorised off West Coast
The Green Connection has lodged an appeal against the authorisation granted to Tosaco Energy by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to proceed with seismic blasting in Block 1, from Alexander Bay to Hondeklip Bay off the West Coast.
This comes just months after environmental groups and communities were granted interim interdicts prohibiting Shell from carrying out a seismic survey off the Wild Coast and Searcher Geodata from conducting a seismic survey off the West Coast.
Last month, Oceans Not Oil (ONO), an organisation fighting offshore oil and gas exploration, called on NGOs to submit their appeals after Tosaco Energy was granted authorisation to carry out the seismic survey.
ONO co-founder Janet Solomon says the authorisation makes no sense in terms of climate change and greenhouse gas emission reduction timeframes.
The Green Connection on Monday said that Tosaco Energy had received authorisation from the DMRE to proceed with seismic blasting in Block 1 despite communities’ calls for improved public consultation.
Last week, following submissions from small-scale fishers in Alexander Bay, Port Nolloth, Kleinsee, Hondeklip Bay and Komaggas, The Green Connection lodged an appeal against the authorisation.
The Green Connection’s community outreach coordinator, Neville van Rooy, who recently visited several communities in Northern Cape, said these communities are fighting issues similar to the ones that led to the interdicting of the Shell and Searcher projects.
“First, there is a similar lack of meaningful consultation with those who would be affected. During interactions in Kleinsee and Hondeklip Bay this week, communities said that they clearly requested that Tosaco’s consultants, Environmental Impact Management Services, come back to do proper consultation at more suitable times.
“The fact that most of the fishermen were not available to attend the meetings should have been an indication that they face many limitations and challenges, which should have been taken into account,” said Van Rooy.
Van Rooy said because many fishers do not have access to the internet and could not have consultations over Zoom, they had been excluded from participating in the Environmental Impact Assessment process.
“This is why communities believe that this approval is not only unacceptable but also illegal. By now, as demonstrated by the Shell and Searcher cases, Tosaco and any others who have the idea to pursue offshore oil and gas in South Africa must know that proper consultation with the people is not negotiable.
“Equitable and effective participation in the decision-making process as required by the National Environmental Management Act must be ensured,” said Van Rooy.
He said The Green Connection had also questioned the legality of the environmental authorisation as, during the pre-application phase, Environmental Impact Management Services and the Petroleum Agency of South Africa had decided that two specialist studies would suffice, without affording relevant stakeholders an opportunity to comment on this decision.
“However, if we consider the judge’s finding in the Searcher interim interdict judgment, applicants who want to conduct seismic testing are required to meaningfully consult with small-scale fishers and fishing communities that rely on the oceans for their livelihoods and culture, and cannot only rely on desktop studies to understand the impacts of seismic testing operations, especially since there is a growing body of scientific evidence exposing the negative impacts on marine life and ecosystems.”
Van Rooy said in addition to the procedural issues related to the granting of the authorisation, the evidence is clear that seismic surveys cause direct and indirect physical harm to marine species and ecosystems.
“The Green Connection also submits that, based on expert advice received, the mitigation measures proposed by Tosaco would not effectively prevent the likely harm caused.
“And since the seismic activities involve loud explosions [from airguns] in the ocean, The Green Connection considers the lack of acoustic modelling relevant to this area as another fatal flaw in the assessment. Evidence shows that marine species will be affected, even mortally injured as a result of the seismic survey.”
He said The Green Connection believes that because it underestimated the potential extent, range and magnitude of the impacts of the proposed seismic blasting, Environmental Impact Management Services and Tosaco had failed to adequately consider the effects on the small-scale fisheries sector.
“For instance, according to Environmental Impact Management Services, small-scale fishing activities take place much closer to shore than they really do. However, the reality is that some fishers venture much deeper offshore to reach fish stocks.
“The assessment also underestimates the effects of seismic surveys on the behaviour of fish, particularly hake and snoek, within the 3D seismic survey area. As a result, it also underestimates the potential impact on catch rates and the knock-on effect such impacts would have on small-scale fishers and communities that rely on fishing for their livelihoods and culture,” he said.
Samantha Cloete from Kleinsee said: “We have seen a decline in snoek stock … which I believe is a result of the offshore oil and gas projects happening in our oceans. This, along with the lack of meaningful public participation with the local communities that will be affected, are some of the main reasons that we reject Tosaco’s application to explore our ocean for more oil and gas.”
Cloete said they want inclusive and socially owned projects that are in line with the just transition and which address the climate crises.
“We want wind and solar energy. These not only have economic potential but also will not harm our environment,” she said.
Community activist Andy Pienaar from the Kobush Development Association said they were shocked and disappointed that the government had given Tosaco the go-ahead.
“We are also disappointed that the consultant did not explain the document in our languages and in a way that ensures we understand the information. This was something we had previously specifically requested, in addition to requesting that they acknowledge and recognise the indigenous and local knowledge of the people here.”
Pienaar said the lived experience and reality of their communities had to be considered and should have formed part of the application.
“But there is no evidence of this in this cut-and-paste document, because it does not include inputs from local small-scale fishers, nor does it include inputs from our community elders. This is very disappointing.
“We hope that the authorisation will be set aside on appeal and that there will be other opportunities for our voices to be heard. However, as it stands, we are extremely dissatisfied with this entire process,” Pienaar said.
Concerned citizen Dawie Markus from Hondeklip Bay said: “What they call consultation is not what we consider to be consultation, where they force decisions down our throat.
“As small-scale fishers, we are concerned about the potential negative impacts on our ocean and environment. We have been completely blindsided by this project’s approval because we know little to nothing about it.
“But what we do know is that seismic testing in our ocean will harm marine life and the marine ecosystem and as a result, is likely to affect our livelihoods, for us here on the West Coast. We cannot allow the government to force such bad decisions down our throats.” DM/OBP