These are many of the reasons ONO objects to how the EIA process has been handled for the Sasol / ENI proposed exploration for 2019 off the KZN coastline.
This letter serves to lodge an objection to the proposed exploration for the reasons listed below. It also serves to highlight numerous contentious issues with this DEIAR process. Our primary concern is that there is clear systemic injustice and fundamental flaws in the DEIAR process for this application, and as such ERM have failed to comply with the DEIAR requirements as set out in NEMA and the EIA Regulations and this is evident for the following reasons:
Contextual certainties not established
It can reasonably be argued that much contemporary baseline information against which the impact of the project can be weighed remains unavailable and accordingly it cannot be said that context has been properly established within the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Report (DEIAR). Support for this submission is as follows.
- The DEIAR reports that baseline data of flora and fauna in “pelagic and demersal communities of the shelf edge, continental slope and upper and lower bathyal are largely unknown” (p80). This near-absence of baseline information on the deep living communities, coupled with the spatiotemporal complexity of the brightly lit, warm epipelagial, to the dimly lit, thermally variable mesopelagial, to the lightless, cold bathypelagial zones added to the ecological processes within each of these depth domains exhibiting high temporal variability on scales ranging from hours to years, makes assessing this complex ecosystem as a desk-top study completely inadequate.
- The exploration sites have neither been visited nor sampled and therefore baseline data remains unknown and the sea floor undisturbed, hence it is unfeasible for the DEIAR to conclude that impacts (of all phases of exploration) to the sea floor to be “negligible”. A proper impact assessment is only possible after the ROV study has been made of the sites, having been made public and undergone appropriate stakeholder engagement. This is a critical research need for this application.
- The occurrence of deep-water corals in Block ER236 is undetermined and not is enough known about the coelacanth lifecycles and where they spend their time during their life stages (that is, between the juvenile stage and the adult stage) for the DEIAR to claim that their presence is “unlikely” in the drill sites. An argument from a lack of knowledge simply proves an insufficient investigation and not the veracity of their absence.
- Similarly statements that submerged prehistoric archaeological sites or material being present in the study area is “extremely unlikely” calls for the mitigation measure of not only impartial marine ecologists but also experienced archeologists, without competing financial interests, monitoring the discoveries of the ROV in real time.
- The Environmental Management Programme (EMPr) has been incorporated as a 30-page document into the DEIAR instead of being a stand-alone report as is required by the DEIAR Regulations.
- ERM claims that a review of the Draft EIA Report was available at the Port Shepstone library, however it was under renovation and inaccessible at the time, leaving the whole of the KZN South Coast without access to the printed report.
- The Scoping Report was not completed in the designated time and should have been repeated, as is required by section 21 of the EIA Regulations (GNR982 of 4 December 2014, as amended). The regulation allows an existing scoping report to be used in certain circumstances. One of these is that a scoping report need not be undertaken again if the findings of the initial scoping report are still valid and the environmental context has not changed. Considering that the DEIAR claims the “areas of interest are unknown” potential gains and/or losses at the inter- and intra-species levels; changes in species abundances; loss of habitat; loss of physical connectivity between habitats, and ecosystems and the unknown impacts on seabed features as well as undiscovered species are unaccounted for. It follows that context has not been properly established by ERM, nor whether there have been changes within it. Due to these concerns I lodged an objection to the lack of follow-up Scoping Report at the Public Participation meeting with ENI and Sasol (9th October) and requested that the EIA be suspended pending the completion of a proper scoping procedure. This objection had 40 seconders whose signatures I attach.
Changes that affect decision making
- Cabinet has now approved the promulgation of twenty Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Pertinent to the ENI/Sasol application is the promulgation of the extension of the iSimangaliso and Aliwal Shoal MPAs and two new MPAs, namely Tugela Banks and Protea Banks. Given that the scoping report, as originally approved in April 2018, no longer reflects the “current environmental context” it is clear that a new scoping report is required and the DEIAR process needs to be re-visited with this new environmental context in mind.
- In early September 2018 a resolution was proposed at the 67th International Whaling Commission (IWC) for the elimination of acoustic pollution that affects whales (of all 13 species and populations considered under the IWC). This resolution was passed by consensus with South Africa being one of the signatories. This is a real and internationally upheld obligation, which impacts the planning around sound mitigation for this DEIAR. The IWC classes anthropogenic sound “as either acute or chronic. Acute noise such as seismic surveys or military sonar is high in intensity and short in duration. Chronic noise refers to low intensity but generally increased noise in the marine environment, for example from shipping and industrial activity.”[i]As such the scoping report and the DEIAR needs a higher survey effort reflecting South Africa’s commitment to the aforesaid convention.
- Lack of consistency in time-frame application for the DEIAR impacts assessments renders them unreliable. Environmental and social impacts are measured only during the operation of exploration, whereas the No-Go Alternative projects impacts into the future beyond the project. This creates a complete lack of parity for any rational comparison of effects and makes the significant ratings therefore irrational and skewed.
- There is contradiction in the DEIAR around issues relating to bio-availability of NADFs (p190) stating they experience rapid biodegradation and yet they are harmless because they have a low bio-availability.
- The DEIAR cites a ”Potential for short-term localised impacts on seafloor (benthic community) and water column biology due to chemicals and sediments in the water column and settling on the seafloor”. However there is research that shows that chronic intermittent exposure of species such as corals, shrimp, scallop, including larval stages of many species, to dilute concentrations of operational drilling wastes (characterized by tests as practically non-toxic) can affect growth, reproductive success and survival[ii],[iii].
Criticism of the oil spill modelling
- This Oil Spill Modelling appears to only consider surface movement of oil and its impacts.
- There is no modelling for recurrent small spills. Small spills have immediate adverse biological effects and their recurrent nature is likely to affect marine ecosystem functioning[iv].
- There is no modelling for spills during transportation.
- The modeling is based in the assumption that the most significant damage will be on shoreline biota. Potential impacts to deep-sea communities from seabed through the water column are not taken into account.
- There is no follow up in the DEIAR to the peer reviewer’s suggestions or requests for clarification.
- The Oil Spill Modelling Report was vetted by an oceanographer with specialist knowledge of the offshore KwaZulu-Natal conditions and brings to light many deficiencies and under-representations of potential impact in the DEIAR.
- This review also cites the real case study of the Katina P, which was laden with oil at the time of her sinking in 2 800 m depth, some 200 nautical miles off Maputo. This incident was selected for illustrative purposes and may not represent either the most severe case or the most likely results. It is, however, representative of a recent accident and has been investigated as to its consequent effects. It created a slick on the South African east coast from Kosi Bay to the Transkei.
This independent review finds:
- The Natal Pulse has not been taken into account.
- It may result in more variability than seasonal scenarios.
- The impact of onshore winds with slack currents could mean oil will get transported onshore.
- It is modelling general conditions.
- The coarse resolution of the HYCOM models means a loss of accuracy near the coast.
- No local content has been used to verify the model output.
- Previous studies of the site with respect to coastal oceanography are referred to but are not referenced.
- Due to there being no understanding of the science of currents in the area, the scientific interpretation is wrong.
- There is no validation to compare with measured data.
- The model has not taken mesoscale cyclonic circulations sufficiently into account.
- Importantly both the peer reviewer and this review question the spill quantity and why conservatively high rates were not used for the oil spill modelling.
- Temporal vagaries brush over the significance of the impacts for example.p3 of Annex D7: “Diesel would naturally degrade and evaporate on the shoreline over time.”
- The modelling needs to consider surface wind response, apart from currents,
- The possibility of oil getting entrained into Port St Johns Eddy, which makes shoreline oiling probable, has not been considered.
Both the technical and independent review of this Oil Spill Modelling Report question whether appropriate methods have been used, whether the data was suitable and whether the findings and conclusions were adequately supported. In other words, the Oil Spill Modelling Report does not satisfy recognised good practice requirements.
- Read the full article at Oceans Not Oil.