Johannesburg - Environmentalists are
hopping mad following the admission by authorities this week that preliminary
seismic tests had been “quietly” conducted between the Port Elizabeth and
Jeffreys Bay shorelines two weeks ago.
The tests follow the granting of a licence
to a company prospecting for oil and gas off the Eastern Cape shoreline.
Tests showing possible gas and oil deposits
on the sea bed of the entire Eastern Cape coastline have pit economic
development against sustainable-environment imperatives.
The discovery of what could be vast gas and
oil deposits could forever change the face of the pristine tourism region of
the Wild Coast, but also have a huge impact on the Eastern Cape economy and
help to reduce South Africa’s reliance on international markets for its energy
Exploration applications are currently
being submitted, and the coastline between Port Edward and Jeffreys Bay could
become a profitable offshore drilling zone.
But the drilling process will involve
blasting on the ocean floor. This worries environmentalists and
conservationists, who argue that the huge population of dolphins and whales
along this coastline may be destroyed during the blasting process.
The exploration between Port Elizabeth and
Jeffreys Bay could be followed by another, including the pristine Wild Coast.
The application to Petroleum Agency SA
(Pasa) by Impact Africa aims to extend exploration between Port Alfred and Port
This area covers more than 45 000km2, with
depths ranging from the shoreline to close to 4?000m deep.
This seismic survey was conducted by New
African Global Energy between February and March, following permission from the
department of energy in December 2011.
Pasa chief executive Nontsikelelo van
Averbeke said the results of this survey would not be made public immediately.
The Wildlife and Environment Society of SA
(Wessa) agreed with Pasa that the withholding of such information from the
public at this stage was normal practice, as it could affect the price of oil
and gas, among other things. But Wessa is nevertheless opposed to the drilling,
saying aquatic life, including dolphins and whales, will be adversely affected.
It said the blasting would interfere with
these species’ navigation, and could also damage their lungs and cause hearing
“Their bodies could also be damaged by the
strong noise and vibration,” said Wessa spokesperson Morgan Griffiths.
One conservationist, who declined to be
named, said the massive shock waves sent by dynamite shot from air guns during
undersea blasting would disturb, or even kill, aquatic life.
Owners of holiday resorts along the coast
also said the oil and gas surveys would affect their establishments, and cause
huge damage to both the environment and the tourism industry. Another concern
is the possibility of oil spills.
Claire Alborough, the spokesperson for
Environmental Resources Management, the consultancy that conducted the
environmental impact assessment, said if it was agreed to start drilling, based
on the survey results, they would enter into the process of public
participation and conduct another impact assessment.
Impact Africa declined to comment on the
growing controversy surrounding its application.
But it did say that, if given permission to
prospect, their exploration would commence next year and it would take about
three years to get results.
Claire Kockott, spokesperson for the Wild
Coast Jikeleza Association, said: “The problem is always that organisations do
not tell the truth and come clean on the negatives. They are only after
Another row is brewing between
environmentalists and developers, coincidentally along the same stretch of
Eastern Cape coastline. Government has approved plans to build a nuclear plant
at Thyspunt, near Jeffreys Bay.
How drilling is done
During the exercise, more than 50 raw
samples will be taken from the ocean floor across this vast area.
The process involves the use of 2-D and 3-D
surveys followed by the use of air guns.
The latter are towed by seismic vessels
that will shoot dynamite direct on the sea bed, causing high-level,
low-frequency sounds and explosions.
It is almost the same as shale gas
fracking, where water, spiced with chemicals, is pumped at very high pressure
into rock crevices under the sea to break them open and release the gas trapped
This process is what environmentalists are
worried about as it kills aquatic life.
Morgan Griffiths of Wessa says: “Of course,
people might argue that the death of sea birds and fish does not matter when it
comes to creating jobs and wealth.
“But it is all these incidents and such
attitudes that have led to the serious decline in our planet’s ability to
- City Press