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DURBAN – Environmental activists have formally appealed against the Department of Mineral Resources’ (DMR) decision to grant environmental authorisation for exploratory oil and gas drilling along the KwaZulu-Natal coast. 

Announcing their intention to appeal in terms of the public participation process at Durban’s beachfront on Monday, a coalition representing 16 environmental groups stretching from northern KwaZulu-Natal to the province’s south coast regions outlined their reasons for the challenge.

These included concerns such as the risk of a “catastrophic oil spill” to a failure to adequately assess socio-economic impacts, as well as inadequate public participation.

The department’s granting of environmental authorisation will allow Italian gas and oil multinational Eni to conduct exploratory drilling in an area of more than 300 km of coastline between Port Shepstone and the industrial city of Richards Bay, in the north of the province.

Sasol was originally granted exploration rights by the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (Pasa) for what is known as Block ER236, in 2013, and then brought in Eni as a partner.

Desmond D’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), is leading the coalition of environmental organisations that are opposing the decision to allow drilling for oil and gas along the KZN coast. D'Sa explains why the activists are against the process. Video: African News Agency/African News Agency (ANA).

However, the environmental authorisation had been subject to various delays due to public pressure, including a moratorium by government not to award any new licences. Minerals’ minister Gwede Mantashe lifted the ban in 2018 on the grounds that it would boost investment.

The DMR’s award will allow Eni to drill, at its closest point, 62 km from the shoreline and at depths of about four kilometres. 

Six wells have been approved for drilling.

“For the department of minerals to proceed with this application, while understanding the science of global warming, is reckless and ill conceived,” said Desmond D’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), which is leading the environmental coalition.

D’Sa said the decision to approve the drilling was “premature”.

The appeal by the environmentalists would be based on procedural fairness, he said, as all decisions taken to date had been influenced by Mantashe’s “swift pursuit of oil and gas development” utilising the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA).

KwaZulu-Natal has over 12000 fishers who depend on the ocean for a livelihood and a tourism and recreational industry whose source of income depends on the ocean, said D'Sa. 

The evaluations and recommendations for the authorisation came from the Petroleum Agency SA, whose mandate was to promote, regulate and facilitate exploration of oil and gas, he said. 

“These decisions therefore lose sight of the devastating effect on the environment of oil and gas exploration, and they lose sight of the principle relating to the right to a healthy environment, which is enshrined in the constitution.”

D’Sa said fossil fuel investments of this nature should not be considered considering the “climate crisis” affecting the globe.

“It is submitted that decisions which continue to perpetuate reliance on oil and gas are irrational and unreasonable. Secondly, the impacts of climate change increase the threat of oil and gas combustion risks and likelihood of impacts from exploration and production activities.” 

The appeal was submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs, DMR, Pasa and Eni. The deadline for submission was 30 September 2019 but an extension was granted until Monday at 4.30pm.  

A final decision is expected within 60 days.

African News Agency (ANA)