‘Not off our coast’

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - Lyse Comins

KWAZULU-Natal res­i­dents and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups have united in ve­he­ment op­po­si­tion against plans to explore and drill for oil and gas off the prov­ince’s coast, high­light­ing dev­as­tat­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters dur­ing oil and gas op­er­a­tions glob­ally.

Sa­sol Africa is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Ital­ian oil and gas corporation Eni to explore for oil and gas along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, hop­ing to lo­cate mas­sive oil and gas re­serves un­der the seabed at depths of be­tween 3 800m to 4 800m.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups have ques­tioned why Sa­sol has part­nered with Eni, which is fac­ing charges of bribery re­lated to its 2011 joint pur­chase with Shell of Nige­ria of an off­shore oil field for $1.3 bil­lion in Nige­ria.

The oil field is one of the most valu­able on the con­ti­nent, but it has never en­tered pro­duc­tion.

Eni and Shell of Nige­ria have both de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

At a pub­lic meet­ing or­gan­ised by the South Dur­ban Com­mu­nity En­vi­ron­men­tal Al­liance to meet with Sa­sol man­age­ment yes­ter­day in Went­worth, some 200 res­i­dents raised their ob­jec­tions, some an­grily shout­ing “voet­sak, Sa­sol, voet­sak”, and “we will never ac­cept the oil in­dus­try”.

It emerged at the meet­ing that a drilling plat­form, sup­ported by six ves­sels, had been launched by a third party com­pany, PGS, that was al­ready car­ry­ing out seis­mic sur­veys for the proposed op­er­a­tion.

The plat­form and ves­sels were lo­cated on an on­line ves­sel trac­ing plat­form by a lo­cal fish­er­man, who high­lighted this at the meet­ing.

Liveli­hoods

Earth­life Africa chair­per­son Alice Thom­son said en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists were con­cerned about the risk of a mas­sive oil spill – as had hap­pened on a BP rig in the Gulf of Mex­ico, killing ten peo­ple, in 2010 – that could cause loss of ma­rine life and im­pact the liveli­hoods of peo­ple liv­ing along the coast.

“It’s a strug­gle for our lives, for our liveli­hood and for our wa­ter.

“There is a fork in the road and the choice we have to­day is to con­tinue fos­sil fuel ex­plo­ration or to tran­si­tion to re­new­able en­ergy,” Thom­son said.

“We can­not af­ford any more ex­plo­ration. Is Sa­sol aware that if we explore for oil and gas, these could be­come stranded as­sets?”

Thom­son said the or­gan­i­sa­tion was con­cerned Sa­sol was work­ing with Eni, which had ex­pe­ri­enced mas­sive ex­plo­sions at its pipe­line in the Niger Delta. How­ever the firm has re­port­edly blamed this on sabo­teurs.

“Eni’s op­er­a­tions have re­sulted in loss of fish­ing grounds, death and de­struc­tion,” Thom­son said.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Wild Oceans and the Stanger com­mu­nity, Khalid Mather, said seis­mic sur­veys and drilling for nat­u­ral re­sources un­der­mined the ocean, driv­ing away fish and other ma­rine life.

He said the coastal com­mu­nity de­pended on the ocean for their liveli­hoods, do­mes­tic tourism and small busi­nesses.

“South Africans are plead­ing with you to­day not to de­stroy the en­vi­ron­ment,” Mather said.

Sa­sol up­stream vice-pres­i­dent John Har­ris said he was struck by the pas­sion for the en­vi­ron­ment ex­pressed by res­i­dents. He de­clined to com­ment on the al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion against Eni, as the mat­ter was sub ju­dice.

Har­ris said the firm had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ef­fect the com­mit­ments made at the Cop21 Paris, which South Africa had signed.

“We are try­ing to work with the gov­ern­ment to move away from a car­bon in­ten­sive econ­omy to a less car­bon in­ten­sive, and maybe to a car­bon neu­tral sys­tem. The end so­lu­tion is a car­bon free so­ci­ety from an en­ergy perspective, and South Africa doesn’t want to be dis­ad­van­taged by rush­ing into that by not hav­ing a sus­tain­able econ­omy,” Har­ris said. He said the firm hoped it could fur­ther de­velop the coun­try’s hy­dro­car­bon re­sources.

He said he was also very pas­sion­ate about the en­vi­ron­ment and had not been in­volved in any of the en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters high­lighted at the meet­ing. He said the firm was busy with the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment process, which would in­clude a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion meet­ing in June.

“A com­pany called PGS is car­ry­ing out a seis­mic sur­vey, and we have a ma­rine mam­mal ob­server on board and some­one who as­sists to see if there are any dol­phins in the area. We are tak­ing our re­spon­si­bil­ity se­ri­ously. PGS is not ac­quir­ing it for us, it is part of the process.

“We will review the data and it may show there is noth­ing of in­ter­est, and then we won’t drill any wells,” Har­ris said.

A spokesper­son for Eni said last night that a wide-rang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion had cleared the firm of al­le­ga­tions of bribery, re­sult­ing in Mi­lan’s pros­e­cu­tors’ of­fice clos­ing the case in 2016, but the judge at the pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing then or­dered the firm and its man­agers to stand trial in 2017.

“The board of di­rec­tors of Eni, also on the ba­sis of the re­sult of in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions, con­firmed its to­tal con­fi­dence that nei­ther the com­pany or its chief ex­ec­u­tive were in­volved in the al­leged il­licit con­duct. The board of di­rec­tors reaf­firmed such con­fi­dence in De­cem­ber 2017, and did so again with our chair­man’s state­ment at Eni’s AGM,” she said. She added that Eni’s oper­at­ing model fo­cused on re­duc­ing risk as well as en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial im­pacts.

“This has granted us an ex­cel­lent track record in safety,” she said.

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