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Boreholes to explore gas reserves below the seabed: Sound scientific input is essential

An announcement that TotalEnergies Exploration & Production SA (TEEPSA) will proceed with drilling activities off South Africa’s south-western coast has raised eyebrows.

This is because of the announcement that the company has already completed its seismic exploration and now plans to sink boreholes with the aim of determining whether there are economically viable oil and gas reserves present.

The latest step that has been taken is launching an environmental and social impact assessment, which is a prerequisite for environmental authorisation. Interested and affected parties are invited to participate in the process.

In the past few months, seismic exploration came under the microscope with South African courts prohibiting two such projects. And that is because the spotlight is increasingly falling on the damage that noise pollution could possibly do to marine life. Coastal communities that are dependent on the ocean have displayed the strongest resistance.

In this case, however, the seismic exploration has already been completed and the next step is drilling boreholes in the designated areas. TEEPSA cancelled the process of obtaining permission for it about a year ago on the 14th of April 2021. Today it was announced that the process will resume.

It is general knowledge that the facilities of PetroSA (previously Mossgas) have mostly fallen into disuse due to a lack of raw materials. So, finding gas reserves in the area could help to save this enterprise while making South Africa more energy independent. The question is at what environmental cost?

In earlier media releases, the FF Plus questioned whether it is wise to invest in new sources of fossil fuels at this time. Natural gas resources, which will last for another estimated fifty years, are available worldwide. Meanwhile, industrialised countries are caught up in a race to become carbon neutral and, thus, restrict the use of fossil fuels to the minimum.

In a surprising turn of events the energy giant Sasol withdrew from a consortium, which would have transported gas from the north of Mozambique to its plant in Secunda via a pipeline (the African Renaissance Pipeline). The company stated that it is striving for carbon neutrality and that a stake in the pipeline would tie the company to fossil fuels for another thirty to forty years.

Furthermore, Sasol reportedly wants to use its knowledge of the Fisher-Tropsch process to produce green hydrogen – it is hydrogen gas as fuel, produced using other renewable fuel sources.

It is understandable that every company will follow its own strategy in pursuit of its own objectives and that something which is true for Sasol is not necessarily true for TotalEnergies. Nevertheless, the risk of natural gas extraction jeopardising the long-term use of marine resources, while also being phased out globally, must be taken into account.

The FF Plus is calling on scientists with the relevant qualifications to conduct a thorough investigation of the impact that these activities may have on marine life as well as on the communities that depend on the ocean for survival.

The country and its people's long-term interests must outweigh any short-term financial gain on the one hand, or emotional reaction on the other hand.

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