Go-ahead for controversial oil project off KZN coast

Go-ahead for controversial oil project off KZN coast

Environmental groups’ objections over-ruled

Marches, protests and objections to drill for gas and oil along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline over the past few years have come to naught, writes Fred Kockott

First published by GroundUp

The Department of Mineral Resources has granted environmental authorisation (EA) to the Italian energy group, Eni, and Sasol Africa (Pty) Ltd to conduct exploratory drilling in the Durban and Zululand basins, covering a total offshore area of more than 4,600 km2.

The operations arise from the government’s Operation Phakisa (hurry up) programme which aims to unlock economic potential of South Africa’s oceans by promoting various commercial activities, including gas and oil extraction, and at the same time provide much needed protection – two very conflicting goals.

The original exploration was granted to Sasol in November 2013 by the Petroleum Agency of South Africa. Sasol subsequently farmed out the permit to Eni, which will be responsible for operations with Sasol retaining a major interest in Block ER236.

The green boundary covers the entire prosecting area open to gas and opil exploration. The red blocks indicate where explorating drilling is planned

Widespread objections

Due to numerous objections received during the public consultation hearings, the granting of an environmental authorisation was repeatedly withheld. However, the serious concerns of wide range of environmental organisations and other stakeholders, including tourism operators, recreational and commercial fishing operators, as well as subsistence fishermen, now appear to have been disregarded by DMR in its drive to fast-track gas and oil extraction along South Africa’s East Coast.

DMR’s environmental authorisation has approved the drilling of six exploration wells in Block236, within two areas of interest:

  • a northern area of about 1717 km2, which is located at its closest point, about 62 km from the shore, with an expected drilling depth of 3,800 – 4,100 metres from the sea surface through to target depths in the seabed
  • a southern area of interest, about 2,905 km2, which is located at its closest point, 65 km from the shore, with an expected drilling depth of around 5,100 metres

Equipment to be used include a deep-water drillship, supply and standby vessels and helicopters.

FEATURED IMAGE: A drilling ship like this could soon be exploring for oil and gas reserves deep in the seabed along the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Source: Eni


Eni have not yet disclosed what kind of drill ships will be used to explore for gas and oil along the KZN coast.


At various public hearings prior to the awarding of the environmental authorisation, concerns have been raised by various environmental groups including WildOceans, the marine conservation arm of the WildTrust, Oceans not Oil, Earthlife Africa, Groundwork, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and various other Interested and Affected Parties.

Concerns include:

  • high-levels of pollution caused by drilling operations
  • sea-bed and marine habitat destruction
  • significant impacts on the commercial fishing industry
  • adverse effects on marine life, including whales and dolphins
  • high levels of fuel consumption and corresponding air emissions during the exploratory drilling phase

A previous scoping report stated that air emissions containing carbon dioxide, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and associated volatile organic compounds could “result in a short-term localised increase in pollutant concentrations” and “contribute to regional and global atmospheric pollution”.

Blow-out risks

Blowout risks have also been a concern, frequently raised by SDCEA coordinator Desmond D’Sa.

“What if the same events that took place in the Gulf of Mexico were to occur here, with the exploration rig just a mere 62km from our shore?” asked D’Sa. He was referring to the 2010 blowout and explosion at the DeepWater Horizon ultradeep drilling rig which killed 11 people and spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The spill affected 180,000 km2 of ocean which is twice the size of KZN.

D’Sa said in view of the inhospitable character of South Africa’s offshore sea, together with increasing cyclonic disturbances associated with global warming, the hazards of operating an offshore drilling rig in KZN’s sea were exceptionally high.

Appeals process

Eni is headquartered in Rome, and has  operations in 79 countries. It is the world’s 11th largest industrial company with a market capitalization of 68 billion euros.

Eni and Sasol were notified of the granting of the environmental authorisation on August 29. Interested and Affected Parties (IAP’s) were advised by Eni’s environmental consultants, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), on Tuesday that they have 20 days to appeal DMR’s decision or any aspect of it.

“Such appeal must be submitted on the prescribed form and in accordance with Chapter 2 of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998, (Act 107 of 1998): National Appeals Regulations, 2014,” said ERM.

All appeals must be submitted by 30 September to the Minister of Environmental Affairs, in English, and copies sent to the DMR Head Office, to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) and Eni (the applicant) at the following addresses

Department of Environmental Affairs

Appeals and Legal Review Directorate
Attention: The Director for Appeals and Legal Review
Email: appealsdirectorate@environment.gov.za
Post: Private Bag x 447, Pretoria, 0001
By Hand: Environment House, Corner Steve Biko and Soutpansberg Street,
Arcadia, Pretoria, 0083

The Petroleum Agency SA

Attention: The Chief Executive Officer
Email: eaappeals@petroleumagencysa.com
Post: Private Bag x 5111, Tygervalley, 7536
By Hand: Tygerpoort Building, 7 Mispel Road, Bellville, 7530

Department of Mineral Resources

Legal Services Directorate
Attention: The Director of Legal Services
Facsimile: 086 710 0877
Post: Private Bag x 59, Arcadia, 0007
By Hand: Trevenna Campus, Building 2C, Corner of Meintjies and Francis Baard
Street, Sunnyside.


Attention: Ms. Nicole Lomberg
Eni South Africa B.V.
1st Floor Icon Building, Corner CubeWS
Corner Lower Long & Hans Strijdom Road
Email: nicole.lomberg@eni.com
Tel: +27 (0)21 412 1582

For further information contact Vicky Stevens at ERM, telephone 021 681 5400, email vicky.stevens@erm.com



Categories: Environment, Ocean Watch

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