Durban - One of South Africa’s best known World Heritage Sites – the iSimangaliso-St Lucia Wetland Park – has been targeted by the World Bank and South African heavy industry as the country’s first carbon dioxide storage dump.
If the project goes ahead there are plans to pump 10 000 tons of carbon dioxide deep underground in the northern, coastal section of the iSimangaliso Park as a way of burying South Africa’s growing cloud of climate-changing greenhouse gases.
Last year, the SA Centre for Carbon and Capture and Storage (Sacccs) confirmed it was investigating pumping CO2 from Eskom and big industry into underground rock formations in northern KwaZulu-Natal or the Eastern Cape.
Carbon storage project manager Brendan Beck told The Mercury in October geoscientists were investigating a study area “north of Lake St Lucia, inland of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, somewhere in the uMkhanyakude region”.
He was emphatic that no specific locations had been chosen and the selection process could still take years.
But now a World Bank study has come to light which states clearly that at least one of the earmarked injection sites is inside the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) iSimangaliso World Heritage Site and that the site location should be finalised this year.
The World Bank’s “stakeholder engagement plan” on how to manage public perception and gain support for the controversial project states that one of the possible sites in KZN is inside the iSimangaliso Wetland, while the Eastern Cape site is close to the Addo Elephant National Park.
“The area considered in the Zululand Basin for test injection falls within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. There are also nature reserves such as the Tembe Elephant Park and Ndumo, among others, located in the general area.”
Responding to queries on the discrepancies between his statements last year and those contained in the World Bank report, Beck said the project was “still in the early stages of development”.
Existing geological exploration data was being reviewed currently, and a detailed site selection process would only begin if a decision was taken to proceed with the project.
“With regard to the World Bank report… my interpretation of the sections you refer to, when read in context, are that they are intended as examples of instances that may cause concern among stakeholders.
“In reality, however, these examples do not represent situations that could actually occur as Sacccs would definitely not consider siting the pilot storage project in any restricted areas such as in the iSimangaliso World Heritage Site.
“I should also clarify that, notwithstanding that the World Bank does provide support for carbon capture and storage research and development in a number of developing countries such as South Africa, it would be wholly inaccurate to refer to this project as a World Bank CO2 storage project, but rather the project should be referred to as the Sacccs pilot CO2 storage project and is under the control of Sacccs.”
Nevertheless, the World Bank report, dated December 2012, warned there could be significant opposition to the carbon storage plan and that consultants would have to “explain the benefits of carbon capture and storage to address concerns and misconceptions which could result in project delays and associated additional cost and risk”.
The report identified the tourism industry, environmental groups, non-government organisations, media and the “general public” as potentially problematic groupings.
Some academics and researchers with technical insights into risks and benefits of the project could react either positively or negatively.
“Should some of them, for example, be of the opinion that there are high risks etc their influence may be negative.“ - The Mercury