Concern as drilling test off Durban coast is approved

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There was toyi-toyiing and a picket outside the Greytown Lodge, the venue where a public consultation meeting was expected to be held to discuss the exploration of oil and gas.
There was toyi-toyiing and a picket outside the Greytown Lodge, the venue where a public consultation meeting was expected to be held to discuss the exploration of oil and gas.
Ian Carbutt

Pietermaritzburg - A seismic drilling test off the Durban coast has been approved for next month, but environmentalists say the decision will destroy beaches and marine life.

Last week, groundWork and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) received notification that a seismic offshore drilling survey will be conducted on February 4.

Schlumberger company was granted a licence by the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (Pasa) to go ahead with the test, which will last 130 days and end in June.

SDCEA director Desmond D’Sa said yesterday that the decision will have disastrous consequences.

“This project will destroy our beautiful beaches and harm our marine life.

“In 2015, it was the first time in many years that we had the sardines come back to our coast, and this was because their path had been diverted by past drilling surveys.

“In our community we have 12 000 subsistence fishermen who will be directly affected by this and will suffer.”

D’Sa said the alliance is in the process of challenging the decision and has consulted lawyers to stop the survey.

“Not only will it destroy our marine life, but Durban depends strongly on tourism which will also be negatively affected by the drilling,” he said.

Oceanographic Research Institute assistant director Sean Fennessy said yesterday that such surveys are becoming common.

“There is great interest in the coast of South East Africa and East Africa, and this survey is just the latest in a string of them.

“Whales’ well-being is a cause for concern should the drilling survey begin.

“The drilling uses sonic blasts with a very low frequency that is like the frequency whales use to communicate.”

He said this could confuse whales and interfere with their migration, possibly ending in whales beaching themselves.

“Ideally, the drilling should not be done during whale migration, which starts in June. However, it appears that the drilling survey will be finishing off in June.

“Usually the company will take a marine surveyor with them, and if they see any whales they must stop all drilling,” said Fennessy.

He said the drilling is usually localised and often has a “scaring effect” on fish in that section of the ocean.

“Once the fish hear the drilling, they move away from the area until it has stopped.

“However, we do not know what the consequences of cumulative drilling would be.

“If a company came back to drill every few months, we don’t know how that would affect the fish.”

Although dolphins and invertebrate marine life would not normally be affected, drilling lifts plumes of sediment together with oil used to clean the drill itself.

“This has a smothering effect on the marine life living in the section where the drilling is taking place,” he said.

groundWork spokesperson Megan Lewis said the impact of drilling could be similar to the consequences experienced in the Mexican Gulf and elsewhere.

In 2010, 11 people died when an oil rig off the gulf exploded due to a gas release.

In April last year, a further four workers died in another explosion on the rig.

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

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