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10 Feb 2018

Coastal oil and gas search draws closer

Dave Savides (Zululand Observer) Picture: Alessandro Gelmetti, MD of global energy company Eni and Claire Alborough of independent environmental practitioners ERM presented the deepwater oil exploration process and procedures (Photo: Dave Savides)

Major focus on oil and gas search off Richards Bay

The potential boon that could come to the region should exploratory drilling off the coast be successful, must be carefully weighed against any possible harm to the environment.

That was the gist of discussion at the first public scoping phase meeting for deepwater exploration drilling in Block ER236 just 62km off the coast of Richards Bay.

Held at Premier Hotel The Richards on Tuesday evening, the poorly attended gathering was principally addressed by Alessandro Gelmetti, MD of global energy company Eni South Africa, who are undertaking the exploration for oil or gas reserves, in partnership with Sasol.

‘This is highly complex, technical work and we are considering drilling up to four wells in the northern area of block ER236,’ said Gelmetti.

‘The success of the first well will determine whether the others are drilled as we investigate the subsea geological structures to determine the presence of naturally occurring hydrocarbons (oil and/or gas).

Cost of drilling each well is around $100-million.

He described in detail the four main components of the project:

• Off-shore exploration well;
• Deepwater drillship, with a 500m exclusion zone around;
• On-shore logistics base (Richards Bay or Durban);
• Supply vessels, standby vessels and helicopters.

A video was shown of the drilling process, including well plugging and abandonment on completion.

Should the exploration be successful, a separate application and EIA would begin for the production process.

Gelmetti said a ‘no go’ option had been included in the present EIA should all requirements and mitigation measures not be accepted.

 Public input

Sharing the EIA and public participation process, Claire Alborough of independent environmental practitioners ERM outlined potential impacts already identified.

These included seawater and sediment quality degradation, disturbance of marine organisms, effect on fishing, climate change, marine pollution, waste disposal, air quality and the introduction of invasive species.

Specialist studies already proposed include marine fauna, fisheries, oil spill modelling and drill cuttings dispersion modelling.

A number of issues were raised by attendees, primarily focused on the potential effects on whale migration and dolphin populations.

While the business sector was enthused at the ‘cheap gas’ and job creation potential, environmentalists were cautiously examining the potential for harm.

It was agreed early contact should be made with local port, municipal and disaster management entities.

The Draft Scoping Report is available for comment and will be released on 22 February, following which a Draft EIA will be made available for a 30 day public comment period.

The first exploratory drilling is not expected to take place before the end of 2019.