Most people love Fridays, but for fracktavistas and other environmental activists, Friday afternoon the time when some sneaky Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs) send out notifications. Judy Bell is particularly fed up. Below is her response to Matthew Hemming who is the EAP for SLR Consulting, after receiving his notification that the APPLICATION FOR AN EXPLORATION RIGHT FOR PETROLEUM (350 ER) EIA REPORT was now available for comment. By sending on Friday afternoons, when they know that most people are not checking emails, or in the mood for legalese, they cleverly reduce the response period by a few days. And ruin weekends for anyone who does receive the mail and actually cares about the state of our planet.

Remember ER350? The seventh exploration right application by Rhino Oil and Gas. This one to explore 4 270 properties over an area of 773 529 ha in KZN and the Free State for oil, gas, condensate, coal bed methane, helium and biogenic gas. Public meetings were held in October and November 2019 in Harrismith, Warden, Bergville, Reitz, Lindley and Kestell.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Report for this application is available from the SLR website at https://slrconsulting.com/public-documents and via a zero-rated website (https://slrpublicdocs.datafree.co/public-documents). The public has until 29 September 2020 to review and comment. Any comments should be sent to Matthew Hemming 072 997 3082 7201803400016@slrconsulting.com

We are all wondering how these exploratory investigations contribute to the urgent need to cut back radically on the use of fossil fuels over the next ten years? We simply have to keep up the pressure or there will be no Fridays of any description in future.

Dear Matthew

I have lost count of how many Friday afternoon mails we get from you regarding inappropriate, un-needed and undesirable proposals – this one was particularly jarring.  This is for another proposal to explore for oil & gas in our water factories, as we face increasingly longer and more extensive droughts.  This is all happening when:

  • This month, a S30A application led to the Thukela Estuary being breached for the first time in a very long time – it usually remains open all year round.
    • The dam upstream is meant to release water to sustain the resource, but the river is almost dry, so the sediment built up in the mouth.
    • The pipeline extracting water from the Thukela River for the increasingly thirsty Richards Bay area was installed as an emergency measure, as their dams, lakes and rivers are unable to cope with over-abstraction and a deepening drought in the catchment.  Less water in the Thukela River.
  • The Vaal Dam is barely 30% full, despite receiving water pumped from the Thukela River (and from Lesotho where the Basotho are struggling to survive the drought).

This impending catastrophe is from cumulative and synergistic impacts, and your project will add to this – not the bit where the airplane flies over and does a survey, of course not – the bit that you know very well comes after that – drilling, fracking and extraction, the pipelines, the whole bangtooty. 

The already perilous existence of peoples’ lives and livelihoods living downstream of these water factories has already been affected by a lack of water. Then came the devastating Covid-19 lockdown, with the need for even more water to keep us sanitized.   With little resilience left,  we still have to face further extremes of weather that the summer season will bring.  This is the very area you want to “harmlessly survey” for oil & gas and expect us to play the game of comment and object, only to be over-ruled again and again, as money triumphs over reason.

I was thus appalled to read this comment in your email:

‘almost no comment on Scoping Report was received from Interested and Affected Parties who reviewed the report at the seven libraries where it was lodged’

ONLY seven libraries for an area which should be covering all downstream (and upstream, if you count those who use the water pumped to Gauteng) users?  This is an indictment of the sham that public participation has become – merely a ticking-the-box exercise.  Where is the support for informed participation and raising awareness so that people can meaningfully engage?  That is your job as the EAP.  Not to hoodwink and connive.

Have you asked anyone not financially involved to read your reports?  This latest one is exactly like all the others we try to meticulously read and upon which some of the braver souls amongst us have again commented.  Submissions were and continue to be completely ignored, so what is the point? 

You refuse (enabled by the regulators) to take into account the impacts of the full project, from exploration, through drilling to extraction, transport and storage.  This despite the findings and recommendations in the Karoo Shale Gas SEA Report, which stated categorically that all phases should be assessed from the outset.  This despite NEMA stating that all phases of a project should be assessed from the outset.  This despite you being the EAP, who is meant to represent the environment, not the interests of those who pay you (handsomely, I bet).

We are exhausted by all these proposals for oil & gas – it is shameful that we have had to have eyes in the back of our heads during the pandemic and as the climate crisis deepens, to keep up with the deluge of applications and documents to read and comment on, knowing full well it is all a charade. 

But we have to make an effort.  It is desperately needed to prevent the destructive activities of fossil fuel exploration and extraction, as well as the building of infrastructure to enable what will soon become stranded assets.

We, who can feel the clock of the climate crisis ticking, know (and so should you, if you want a future for your children) that all these follies are adding to the extremes of weather we are seeing and living with RIGHT NOW.  It means we are going to have to do things differently.  It is not a theory any more.  The disaster is here and just like the pandemic, requires a swift and decisive response to ensure we survive as a species.

It is so ironic, that right now, mega hurricane Laura has shut down the fossil fuel industry in the Gulf – it is on fossil fuel steroids!  Surely even you must be able to connect the dots by now?  The python’s coils are tightening and we all need to breathe.  The impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are directly affecting the very source of all the problems.  Big Oil. 

All these projects will result in stranded assets (wasteful expenditure) and guess who will be further impoverished trying to deal with the legacy?  Oh yes, those already feeling the brunt of climate change – most of us are already getting poorer, but the poorest, even more so.  It is shameful.  We should be putting all our efforts into the use of non-polluting and renewable energy sources, of which oil and gas is neither.

I wonder when all the effect of the lawsuits (which are gathering apace globally to force the oil & gas companies and their cronies to account for the harm to lives and livelihoods) will start to sink in?  When will you and yours realize that this is ecocide – a crime against humanity – for which you will be eventually held accountable?  Jointly and severally.

Please ensure that my comments are logged for the project.  I would hate to read that there was no response.

Judy Bell

We Hate Fridays

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