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Mantashe defends SA’s right to capitalise on oil and gas resources amid Shell furore

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe briefs the media on the latest developments in the upstream petroleum industry in South Africa. Photo: Supplied.

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe briefs the media on the latest developments in the upstream petroleum industry in South Africa. Photo: Supplied.

Published Dec 10, 2021

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MINERAL Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe yesterday defended South Africa’s right to capitalise on opportunities in its natural resources, including oil and gas amid the push back against Shell’s seismic survey in the Wild Coast.

Mantashe who recently returned from a four-nation visit to the West African region led by President Cyril Ramaphosa told the media in Pretoria yesterday that oil and gas resources proved to be game-changers elsewhere.

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“We consider the objections to these developments as apartheid and colonialism of a special type, masqueraded as a great interest for environmental protection. South Africa’s economic development is oppressed in the name of environmental protection when we have environmental framework that ensures that licensing is done with the utmost environmental care founded on Section 24 of our Constitution,” he said.

The Makhanda High Court on Friday dismissed an urgent interdict to halt Shell’s seismic survey on the Wild Coast brought by Natural Justice, Greenpeace Africa, Border Deep Sea Angling Association and Kei Mouth Ski Boat Club.

Acting Judge Avinash Govindjee found that the eco and human rights group had failed to convince it that there was a reasonable apprehension of “irreparable harm” if the interdict wasn’t granted. He found that given financial and other prejudice to Shell if the seismic surveys were delayed, the “balance of convenience” was in Shell’s favour.

“I cannot help but ask myself, are these objections meant to ensure the status quo remains in Africa, in general, and South Africa, in particular? That is, the status quo with regards to energy poverty, high unemployment, high debt to gross domestic product ratio at country level and economies that were not growing and, in some cases, jobless economic growth. Could it be possible that this is an extreme pure love for the environment or an unrelenting campaign to ensure that Africa and South Africa do not see the investment inflows they need?” Mantashe asked.

He outlined mitigation measures deployed during seismic operations in South Africa’s upstream petroleum industry, including the National Environmental Management Act (Nema) regulations that required a 2 km buffer zone from marine protected areas. Mantashe said South Africa imposed a 5 km buffer restriction to licensees.

He said that seismic surveys worldwide had not been met with the resistance South Africa was seeing in its upstream petroleum space.

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“In the last five years, there have been at least 12 seismic surveys in South Africa, including a 3D seismic survey by a company called “PGS” in 2018 in the same area that is being contested today.”

Mantashe said a case in point was the environmental authorisation for drilling exploration issued to ENI and Sasol for their east coast block, which was met by 47 appeals.

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, dismissed all 47 appeals concluding that the Environmental Management Programme (EMPR) on the basis of which this environmental authorisation was issued is of a high standard and contains sufficient mitigation measures. Subsequently, the environmental lobby groups have taken the matter on legal review,” said Mantashe.

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Mantashe was referring to the decision by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to authorise Eni South Africa and Sasol to explore for oil and gas in Block 236 off the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast.

Mantashe said in relation to the Shell survey, an independent audit was also carried out in 2020 to test the efficacy of the mitigation measures in the 2014 EMPR. He said the report was shared with the interested and affected parties and no objections were received.

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