Proposed oil exploration raises concerns from South Africa’s fishing industry

Published on
August 17, 2020

South Africa’s seafood industry players have expressed concern on the likely negative impact on fisheries by oil and gas exploration activities along the country’s south coast region by French oil giant Total SA.

The oil and gas exploration project in Block 11B/12B is likely to impact fisheries in the surrounding area, with a northern boundary extending 130 kilometers offshore of the Mossel Bay and 45 kilometers of Cape St Francis, respectively. It is estimated 98 percent of South Africa’s exclusive economic zone “is subject to a right or lease for offshore oil and gas exploration or production,” according to Safeguard our Seabed, a project funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust.

Total SA is expected to drill more than 10 additional exploration wells and carry out Controlled Source Electro-Magnetic Surveys (CSEM) to map out the presence of hydrocarbon resources in Block 11B/12B.

In addition, the exploration will see the deployment of metocean buoys for data acquisition and acoustic monitoring, according to draft scoping report by South Africa-based SLR Consulting (South Africa) Pty Ltd.

“The proposed exploration activities could potentially affect commercial fishing activities, as a result of fish disturbance from the Controlled source electromagnetic (CSEM) survey,” SLR Consulting adds.

The draft report further says the search for oil and gas in south coast of South Africa could lead to “fishing exclusion from the proposed 500 meters to 2 kilometer operational safety zones around the drilling unit, increased underwater noise disturbance during drilling, the abandonment of the wellheads on the seafloor and accidental oil spills during normal operations, as well as the unlikely event of a large blow-out.”

According to South Africa Pelagic Fishing Industry Association (Sapfia), the sonic waves from the exploration activities “can also damage fish with air bladders, destroy marine wildlife eggs and larvae, and incite fish and other marine species to migrate from the affected area.”

“This inevitably threatens the health of regional fisheries and risks the livelihoods of those who depend on the ocean for their survival,” Sapfia adds.

Sapfia predicts strong resistance to the project by environmental groups ahead of the public meetings expected to be held not later than 21 August, 2020.

The Association says the opposition to the oil and exploration in fishery areas has been triggered by what the environmentalists perceive to be “a one-way transmission” observed during the previous consultation meetings between environmental groups and Total SA. The groups claim they have not been given adequate opportunity to articulate the adverse impacts of the projects on fisheries and other marine life.

“It is clear that SLR and Total have plotted dirty tricks to muffle people’s rights to a fair and equitable public participation process in Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe push for petroleum,” Groundwork, a Southern Africa-based non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organization, said. “As South Africans push through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, their rights as citizens continue to be violated.” 

Photo courtesy of South Africa's Department of Mineral Resources

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