TotalEnergies project in South Africa is a slingshot through Europe

By Damien Glez

Posted on Thursday, 23 February 2023 14:25
Image by Damien Glez

Environmental activists and South African fishermen are trying to convince Europeans and their leaders that TotalEnergies' new South African project carries significant risks.

Since 5 September 2010, when TotalEnergies applied for a licence to develop two gas blocks off South Africa’s southern coast, the company has faced opposition, despite South African authorities’ benevolence.

Environmental activists have joined forces with fishing communities to denounce the endangerment of Mossel Bay, an area situated in the southern part of the country characterised by its high level of biodiversity, on which wildlife and the tourism industry depend.

Public opinion

Following an international petition launched on 17 October, the opponents of the gas extraction project now plan to strike a blow in Europe, by mobilising public opinion and decision-makers in the northern hemisphere.

Alongside the marine conservation organisation Bloom and the South African institution Green Connection, South African artisanal fishermen are crying out for an “amplification of the climate crisis” that could, put simply, put an end to an ancestral profession.

If the licence were granted to TotalEnergies for an investment of around $3bn and estimated reserves of more than one billion barrels of oil equivalent, drilling at a depth of 1,700m should be expected, with wells potentially leaking onto the migration route of large aquatic mammals such as killer whales.

The campaigners lay the blame on both the non-renewable energy industry and South African politicians. While the national electricity grid is on the brink of collapse and South Africa still gets 80% of its electricity from coal, much to the chagrin of environmentalists, Gwede Mantashe, South Africa’s minister of mineral resources and energy, sees TotalEnergies’ new project as an opportunity to diversify the electricity mix towards a “sustainable transition”.

And environmental NGOs are crying “greenwashing”, as gas is not a transition energy, even if it is less polluting than coal.

Patrick Pouyanné, chairman and CEO of the French oil company, points out that “TotalEnergies EP South Africa has already voluntarily reduced the perimeter of the licence application by excluding the area currently classified by the South African authorities as a protected maritime zone.”

The project is waiting for an Environmental and Societal Impact Assessment (ESIA) to clarify the economic, social and environmental impacts.

The battle continues.

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