Coast KZN

10 Jul 2017

Search for oil off Richards Bay

Mia Moorcroft (Zululand Observer) Picture: A seismic survey vessel in action


More 2D and 3D seismic surveys anticipated to begin in December

The search for oil and gas off the Zululand coast continues.

Marine geophysical company Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) has submitted an application to the Petroleum Agency SA (PASA) for a reconnaissance permit to undertake 2D and 3D seismic surveys of Zululand’s ocean floors.

PGS will retrieve data from a number of petroleum blocks between the 15km buffer line and 250kms offshore from Richards Bay to Mosselbay.

Environmental consultant SLR, appointed by PGS, said in an executive report the operation is anticipated to begin in December, but it ultimately hinges on the permit award date and availability of the survey vessel.

The duration of the process will then depend on whether the speculative 2D and 3D surveys are run concurrently or at different times, but would likely be completed by the end of May next year.

‘The proposed 2D survey would cover two target areas with a total length of between 2 000 and 8 000kms and the proposed 3D survey would cover three target areas with a total extent of between 3 000 and 10 000kms,’ said the consultant.

Seismic surveys are carried out during marine oil and gas exploration to investigate subsea geological formations.

During seismic surveys high-level, low-frequency sounds are directed towards the seabed from near-surface sound sources towed by a seismic vessel.

‘At this stage, no vessels have been contracted for the proposed survey,’ said SLR.

‘Thus specific details would only be available when the operator has appointed a contractor(s) and contracted vessels.’

PASA has requested that for PGS to obtain their desired permit, they must prepare a ‘plan for managing potential environmental impacts that may result from the proposed operation and consult with affected parties’ for approval from the Minister of Mineral Resources.


Species scoped
Species that may be affected on the Tugela bank and farther north, include a number of larger crustacean species such as penaeid prawns, pink and red prawns, langoustines and red crab.

‘The shallow-water penaeid prawns typically occur on unconsolidated sandy to muddy sediments in below 50m depth on the Tugela and St Lucia Banks, whereas the deep-water species occur at depths between 360 and 460m.

‘Other deep-water crustaceans that may occur in the proposed Reconnaissance Permit area are the shovelnosed crayfish and the Natal deep-sea rock lobster.’

The critically endangered leatherback and endangered loggerhead turtles also migrate along the coastline and nest between October and March on the beaches of world heritage site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, but SLR said the proposed permit area is 100kms south of these nesting zones.

For whales and dolphins, the most species-rich area along the East Coast has been found to be between 200 and 1 000m offshore.

‘The most common species within the proposed survey areas in terms of likely encounter rate, not total population sizes, are likely to be the common bottlenose dolphin, long finned pilot whale, southern right whale and humpback whale.

SLR said the East Coast provides few suitable breeding sites for coastal and seabirds.

‘Only three species – the Grey-headed gull, Caspian tern and Swift tern – breed regularly along the coast.’