Durban environmentalist Desmond D’sa, right, voices his objections to plans by Sasol and Eni to start drilling for deep-sea gas and oil reserves.
ENVIRONMENTAL activists and south of Durban communities will come face-to-face with fuel giant Sasol at a public hearing on oil exploration.

The South African company is set to meet the Durban community at a gathering organised by the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) on Thursday.

Sasol and Italian oil and gas corporation Eni have teamed up in a project to locate oil and gas reserves under the seabed at depths of between 3.8km and 4.8km.

SDCEA invited Sasol to discuss its stance on offshore oil and gas drilling along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, which the environmentalists and community were opposing.

“We need jobs that don’t harm the environment. Oil drilling will have huge impact and destroy biodiversity. We need to stand up and fight,” said environmentalist Desmond D’sa.

“We have pushed Sasol to come and explain. Initially the Italians were telling us they were responsible, and we asked how much they owned and they said 40% and the rest, 60%, is for Sasol. They must come and meet us because they hold the majority of the right,” said D’sa.

“We are bringing people from Mozambique who are suffering from the same oil and gas problems. We must tell them ‘not in our name, we don’t want you to come here and destroy our beautiful ocean’,” he said.

A meeting was held at the Tropicana Hotel in Durban to discuss the proposed exploration drilling off the KZN 
coast.

This week SDCEA held a youth workshop to raise awareness about the effect of offshore oil and gas drilling.

D’sa said it was important for the young to be made aware and be part of discussions since they too would be greatly affected.

“Young people have shown interest and have been attending meetings. I’m confident that in the meeting a lot of young people will challenge and ask Sasol serious questions.”

NGOs and eco activists have long opposed plans for offshore oil exploration, citing its effect on marine life, tourism, climate change and potential oil spills.

D’sa also warned that oil exploration could start war in the country. “Oil brings war. We have seen even with Iraq where the Americans went to war, it was clear that the war was about oil.”

He said seismic testing had begun along the KZN coast. However, there had been no report of an offshore oil find yet.

A draft scoping report by Environmental Resources Management revealed that South Africa had a crude oil demand of 600000 barrels a day.

If the exploration was successful, the benefits could be job creation, increased government revenues and the reduced need to import crude oil.

The project forms part of the government’s Operation Phakisa (hurry up) initiative that aims to tap into the economic potential of the ocean.

Sasol head of group medial liaison Alex Anderson, confirming the meeting, said: “Eni, our partner, is the operator and the entity managing this process. Sasol is committed to open and transparent engagement with all stakeholders on this project, as it’s an ongoing process over the coming year. We value the engagement and the feedback we receive, so that we consider stakeholder concerns into the development of the project.”

An exploration well may be drilled next year. “As part of this process, an environmental impact assessment must be undertaken. This is usually undertaken in three phases, a scoping phase, specialist study phase and impact assessment. The project is currently in the specialist study phase,” he said.

SUNDAY TRIBUNE