‘Powers that be have made up their minds’, so seismic surveys off our coast now going ahead

Report by: Basil van Rooyen

Environmental authorisation has been granted to Sungu Sungu Oil (Pty) Ltd to conduct the proposed 3D seismic survey within the Pletmos Basin off the Southern Cape coast.

Stakeholders were informed of this decision on January 11 by Wanda Marais of SRK Consulting, who handled the Environmental Impact Assessment on behalf of Sungu Sungu.

Any appeals, with backing documentation, need to be submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs by Thursday February 1, with copies to the Department of Mineral Resources and the Petroleum Agency South Africa.

What does it mean?

The Pletmos Basin stretches roughly from about Knysna in the west and Jeffrey’s Bay to the east, and extends some 70km offshore, thus including the entire stretch of Tsitsikamma National Park.

This area will now be subject to 3D seismic surveys - geological surveying methods involving vibrations produced artificially by explosions.

Air guns towed along behind ships with cables are filled with high pressure air and have a mechanism to release them as air bullets that hit the sea surface, causing a seismic reaction that is picked up by pressure-sensitive hydro phones inside the streamer cables.

The hydro phones then convert pressures signals into electrical energy and transmit them to the recording system on board a ship, showing where oil or gas might be located in the land formation below the seabed.

The main environmental concern is the very real potential of noise from the high-energy seismic source to disturb or injure animal life, especially cetaceans such as whales, porpoises and dolphins, as these mammals use sound as their primary method of communication with one another.

Can this process be stopped?

Probably not. Last year, the project went through the elaborate Scoping Report and Environmental Impact Assessment phases.

Numerous organisations and individuals objected and some of their comments were used to strengthen the measures that are supposed to minimise the impact of the explosions on marine life.

While there is still a short period left for final appeal, and a widely-supported petition is going around to try to influence the decision-making process, one can safely assume anything more that can be said is likely to have little impact.

The powers that be have made up their minds. It is shocking that our government can be so insensitive to the most beautiful and pristine stretch of coastline left in the country.

When are the oil rigs going up?

Not very soon, and perhaps never. It depends on whether any exploitable quantities of gas or oil are discovered - and on the price of oil in the future, of course. Developing oil and gas fields is a long, complex, and expensive process.

Sungu Sungu is an empowerment company based in Johannesburg; it has obtained large concessions in various areas for exploration, but its website contains little information and does not seem to be well capitalised.

• Basil van Rooyen is co-chair of Plett Environment Forum. Email vanrooyen.basil@gmail.com or wmarais@srk.co.za for details to lodge your appeal by February 1.