After many months of seismic testing along our Southern African coastline, Total (the French owned oil giant) announced in early February the discovery of a vast reserve of natural gas located under the sea bed of the Outeniqua Basin, about 175 km off our Southern Cape coast. This means that at some point in the near future, offshore drilling will commence in one of the richest marine environments on earth.
In light of the dire state of Eskom and the energy crisis that is once again gripping our country and severely impacting on our already anaemic economy, many South Africans will perhaps view this as hitting the jackpot. They may even think that it could be the answer to our energy security. And perhaps it could in the short term, but at what cost in the grand – all important – scheme of things?
While Total executives, oil lobbyists and politicians pop Moët and lick their chops because of this epic fossil fuel find, environmentalists from several organisations are voicing serious concern about the negative impacts that offshore drilling for this finite resource will have on both the warming climate and the marine environment.
Climate scientists have been shouting from the rooftops for decades that we absolutely have to transition quickly away from our reliance on fossil fuels if we are to mitigate some of the damage done to our environment. It is critical that nations around the world embrace renewable energy to power our lives – if we are to avoid an outright climate change crisis.
Greenpeace has strongly condemned Totals’ “reckless oil exploration” off the coast of South Africa and Africa’s Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, Melita Steele, had this to say: “Discovering yet more oil and gas is not something to celebrate when burning fossil fuels is driving potentially catastrophic climate change. “Deep sea drilling is far too risky…the environmental impacts of deep sea drilling for oil and gas are too significant to be ignored, with very little benefit or job creation for South Africans. It is reckless of the South African government to allow oil and gas exploration to go ahead, and unfortunate that this was lauded as a victory at the State of the Nation Address last night.”
So offshore drilling has been given the go ahead despite the fact that the South African government has ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the fact that they tabled a Carbon Tax Bill in parliament last November. The finance minister Tito Mboweni even went as far as saying that “Climate change poses the greatest threat facing humankind and South Africa intends to play its role in the world as part of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
As a nation, we have a helluva lot of work to do, because South Africa is among the filthiest energy producers on the planet. In 2015 we ranked 18th in the world on the list of worst greenhouse gas emitters and we are the worst polluter among the G20 countries.
Many believe that natural gas is a much better option that coal, because it produces about half as much carbon dioxide as coal, but it wreaks havoc if it escapes into the atmosphere unburned. That’s because natural gas is comprised mostly of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Over the course of a century, methane can trap 34 times as much heat as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.
Our government seems equally flippant about the health of our ocean – which, at the end of the day, is our planet’s lifeline. Offshore drilling of any kind is fraught with risk. The huge gas reserves that have been discovered lie within the Agulhas Current, which is one of the strongest and most dangerous currents in the world, but also one which supports a remarkable web of marine life. Conditions is the part of the ocean are extremely volatile, with gale force winds and rogue waves a common phenomenon. This dynamic current is known as one of the driving forces which shapes our global climate. If this rich marine ecosystem is compromised, it could have devastating effects worldwide. Taking into account this incredibly dynamic marine environment and the fact that miners will be drilling at depths of up to 3,5km – we believe that it is outright criminal to allow this.
The South African public needs to stand up and fight for the protection of our environment. We need to fight for the future of this planet and that of our children. Out country is ideal for renewable energy and we need to start transitioning NOW. We also need to protect the oceans at all costs, because an ailing ocean will be the end of us all.