Gwede Mantashe. Picture: GCIS
Gwede Mantashe. Picture: GCIS

A group of environmental activists are upping the ante in their battle to prevent exploration for oil and gas off the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

According to a study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, SA has potential oil and gas reserves of about 9-billion and 11-billion barrels respectively off its coast.

To realise that potential and help the economy reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the government’s Operation Phakisa has set a target of sinking 30 exploration wells offshore in the next 10 years.

Drilling for oil is expected to get under way early in 2019 after Thursday’s announcement by mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe in Cape Town that SA will relax a moratorium on gas and oil exploration licences, implemented earlier in 2018, to allow exploration and production applications already in the system to be granted.

“This amendment will ensure that applications currently in our system are processed and granted,” Mantashe told an oil and gas industry meeting. “We can’t delay exploration because we want to accelerate investment.”

Sasol Africa and Eni Italian Oil Corporation intend to explore and drill for oil and gas along the coast between Port Shepstone and Richards Bay. But environmentalists hope to halt the process through various means, including petitions, mass mobilisation and court processes.

Desmond de Sa, the head of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and who is also the leading member of a consortium of environmental organisations opposed to the drilling, said it is unfortunate that the minister has given the go-ahead without considering the objections of environmentalists and other stakeholders.

“KwaZulu-Natal is renowned for its famous and beautiful beaches. However, healthy oceans are critically important to marine life and to coastal communities, whose economies rely on tourism, fishing and recreational activities. Opening up new offshore areas to drilling risks permanent damage to our oceans and beaches,” he said.

SA Oil and Gas Alliance CEO Niall Kramer said although many local and international oil and gas companies are willing to invest billions to explore for oil and gas off SA’s south coast, it is still early days.  A number of companies have been granted “technical co-operation permits” but have been hindered by the moratorium.

“SA needs to have a symmetrical and rational discussion on on-shore and offshore mineral exploration that will take into consideration the concerns of the environmentalists and affected communities on one side, and the imperative for the extraction of natural mineral resources on the other,” Kramer said.