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Environmental activists picketed in coastal towns and cities against the destruction of ocean life by offshore oil and gas exploration by Total Energies. The French multinational energy and petroleum company is about to submit its final application to drill up to five wells of oil and gas along the coast from Cape Town to Cape Agulhas. Today was the last day for public comment on any aspect of the proposed project and the findings of the environmental impact assessment.

The main march took place in Johannesburg on Wednesday, ending at the Total Energies head offices in Rosebank. The march was organised by an alliance of environmental organisations, The Green Connection, that is campaigning to end the use of fossil fuels and for government investment in 100% renewable energy. They argue that the gas that would be explored by Total is not transitional fuel as it “produces 80 times more methane emissions. This will only lead to a climate bomb in SA.”

In Johannesburg

Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance coordinator, Samson Mokoena told Elitsha that, they are tired of breathing dirty air in the Vaal: “We are faced with fossil fuel attacks in South Africa, both Total and Shell are exploring our coast and also their fracking process has serious effects on inland communities. We feel under attack and this is for their own economic interests. The Total exploration is destroying livelihoods. At Vaal, where I am from, we have been fighting with Sasol for the past two decades, for them to consider using renewable energy. The environment is also suffering because of this ignorance.”

In a memorandum that they handed over to a representative of Total, the environmental and social justice activists said they marched in solidarity with small-scale fisher communities whose livelihoods are most at risk from the offshore oil and gas exploration and production.

Advocacy officer for the Green Connection, Kholwani Simelane said, “The reason we marched around these key areas in Gqeberha, in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, is the continued burning of fossil fuels despite numerous calls for corporations to move away from them. We want them to shift to renewable energy. We are totally against oil and gas exploration and exploitation.”

Total promised to respond to the memorandum of demands within a week. Simelane said they are ready to continue picketing if the response is unsatisfactory. Among the demands is that Total Energies abandon all new hydrocarbon exploration and production projects off the South African coast. 

The organisations said the oil and gas operations are in areas of spectacular marine biodiversity, and that it cannot bringdevelopment if it comes at the expense of nature and the livelihoods of especially coastal communities. 

In Cape Town

A picket was held outside a Total Energies petrol station in Paarden Eiland. Nandipha Masango from The Green Connection said that Total Energies wants to explore oil and gas off the west coast. “We are against the exploration because it may lead to oils spills that will lead to water and air pollution. Also the oil that they are looking for might take them some time to find, therefore it would not provide immediate solution to South Africa’s energy crisis,” she said.

According to Masango, the oil that the company wants to drill for would not be for South Africa and its residents but would be exported to international markets. “We have also discovered that in their application, they did not fully study the social and economic impact the oil exploration would have on small-scale fishers and coastal communities who depend on the ocean for food and livelihoods,” she said.

In a press statement addressed to The Green Connection, the company said that everything has been done according to the regulations. “I can confirm that TotalEnergies EP South Africa and its partners applied for a production license on September 5, following which an environmental and societal impact assessment was initiated, in accordance with South African regulations. This assessment will provide a
detailed description of the project’s economic, social and environmental impacts, the measures
planned to preserve the environment, and the related social and economic benefits,” said Patrick Pouyanné, chairman and chief executive officer.

He disputed the allegation that the oil and gas exploration would not benefit South Africans saying that the project would supply gas to the South African domestic market.

Picketers outside Total Energies petrol station in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Total says it is merely aligning itself to South Africa’s policy when it comes to energy. “In South Africa, TotalEnergies is positioning itself in accordance with public policy to contribute to the evolution of the country’s energy mix as part of a just transition that will require a move away from coal, a sharp increase in renewable energies, and the use of gas as a transition fuel,” he said.

Jeanne-Marie Klopper who was part of the picket in Cape Town criticised government policy on energy as being contradictory: “The government is focusing and doing fantastic when it comes to renewable energy but it does not make sense to focus on renewable energy and at the same time go for oil and gas exploration. It is totally contradictory.”

Aslam Reddy from Green Peace warned that if the country continues with the exploration for oil and gas, it will have devastating effects. “If we are going to continue with fossil fuels, we as a human race are going to suffer. We have clean and natural energy that we can use,” he said.