The WG Magellan will spend about over four months moored off the KwaZulu-Natal coast while a 3D seismic survey is conducted in a search for oil.

Durban - The world’s largest oil company will start exploration off the KwaZulu-Natal coast next month.

Based in Texas, Schlumberger was granted a reconnaissance licence by the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (Pasa) to conduct a 3D seismic survey to determine if there was oil in South Africa’s waters.

This was revealed in a notice to stakeholders from the consultancy firm Environmental Resource Management.

The survey is expected to take 130 days.

A survey vessel, the WG Magellan, would be supported by three other vessels. Environmental professional, Dr Paul Martin, said this was to ensure the survey vessel was not disturbed while it searched for oil at 1 800m depths.

“The survey vessel carries a big boom behind it for about 10km, so they have to ensure that fishing vessels are kept at bay,” Martin said.

A fisheries liaison officer and marine mammal observer would also be on board.

Martin said this was the ideal time to conduct such a survey because it was outside whale migration season and beyond sardine waters.

He said the progression to a 3D survey was indicative that theirs was some promise for oil prospectors. “They must be fairly certain that there must be something there and want to zoom in on those areas. If there is, the next step will be the actual drilling and after that it will be oil rigs and exploitation.”

Martin said what he feared was that although South Africa had some of the best laws in the world, the country displayed some of the worst implementation.

“These guys will be offshore, out of sight in a high-risk area. Only time will tell.”

The survey is expected to be completed in June.

Desmond D’Sa, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said his organisation was approached for comment last year and asked for additional information and that the public be engaged.

But, he said, the information requested was not provided and public meetings were not held and the issue was not publicised in local media.

D’Sa said the public would be most affected and that should an oil spill ensue, the city’s tourism industry stood to be destroyed.

He said sensitive marine life would be destroyed. “This has not been a consultative process but rather a dictatorial one and we oppose it.

“We’re going to consult with our legal teams and get advice and we are going to approach local communities and arrange protests,” D’Sa said.

Director of groundWork, Bobby Peek, said it seemed as though the public was simply being told what to do.

“I’m concerned about the lack of meaningful public engagement,” he said. “The fact that Pasa has not come and directly spoken to the public is an administrative injustice.”

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