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Barbara Creecy. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Barbara Creecy. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The government has given the go-ahead for French energy company TotalEnergies to drill offshore for gas and oil, after rejecting an appeal from more than a dozen individuals and lobby groups who intend challenging the decision.

The appeal to stop TotalEnergies from drilling in Block 5/6/7 off the Cape coast was the latest in a series of actions seeking to halt energy companies exploring for new offshore discoveries that could damage the environment.

It sought to persuade forestry, fisheries & the environment minister Barbara Creecy to set aside the environmental authorisation granted to the energy company by the department of mineral resources & energy in April, on grounds ranging from marine noise and oil spills to climate change and insufficient public consultation.

But Creecy, sitting as the appellate authority, dismissed their concerns in a 144-page ruling.

“I am therefore satisfied that the impacts of noise and light have been adequately assessed and mitigated to ensure low impacts on the receiving environment. As such this ground of appeal is dismissed,” she said in the ruling dated September 24.

One of the appellants, Climate Justice Charter Movement, said Creecy’s decision was “disappointing but unsurprising”.

“The decision by the minister will be challenged, it is irrational and ignores climate science,” it said in a statement on Monday.

TotalEnergies, which discovered two huge gas fields off SA in 2019 and 2020, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Its area of interest in the block covers about 10,000km2 and is between Cape Town and Cape Agulhas, about 60km from the coast at its closest point and 170km at its furthest, in water depths between 700m and 3,200m.

TotalEnergies, the operator with a 40% stake, and partners Shell, also with 40%, and national oil company PetroSA holding the remaining 20%, propose drilling up to five exploration wells in the block.

Meanwhile, four environmental organisations have started legal action against TotalEnergies over the impact of the group’s oil pipeline development in Uganda and other fossil fuel projects.

Darwin Climax Coalitions, Sea Shepherd France, Wild Legal and Stop EACOP-Stop Total en Ouganda said they have filed a complaint with the Nanterre prosecutor’s office over TotalEnergie’s “climaticide action”.

They say the company approved more fossil fuel projects than any other oil major between 2022 and 2025, including the $3.5bn East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) that will help Uganda export its oil to international markets.

“Considering the climate emergency and its global stakes, it’s not possible any more for companies driven by a vision of short-term profit to put at risk everyone’s future with impunity,” Lamya Essemlali, head of Sea Shepherd France, said in a statement.

“Acknowledging Total’s criminal liability ... is a huge step towards climate justice,” Essemlali said.

The environmental groups make four different complaints against TotalEnergies: failing to fight a disaster, involuntary homicide, unintentional injury to people and destruction or damage of property belonging to a person likely to create a danger to people.

The complaint could lead to a judge opening a formal investigation.

A spokesperson for TotalEnergies said the company was not aware of the complaint. “The company operates in compliance with its operating standards and with laws and regulations. It will respond to requests from authorities if necessary,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Rights group Human Rights Watch said in July that the EACOP project, in which TotalEnergies has a 62% stake, has “devastated” the lives of thousands of people who have experienced delayed or inadequate compensation for their land, and is a disaster for the planet as it will add emissions that worsen climate change.

TotalEnergies rejected Human Rights Watch’s accusations, saying it was respecting all the rights of affected people.


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