Public Participation Put on Mute - Total and SLR Alienate and Snuff out Communities' Voices In Public Participation Process

18 July 2020 - On Thursday 16th July at 16h00 the appointed environmental consultancy SLR hosted what was meant to be a stakeholder engagement webinar session with oil and gas company, TOTAL’s new proposed drill wells in Block 11B/12B.  Stakeholder engagements and consultations form part of the requirements of the public participation process for the environmental authorization application and must comply with regulations set out by the Department of Environmental Affairs Fisheries and Forestry (DEFF) and related Covid-19 Directives.  Stakeholder engagement is a process of interacting with stakeholders, so that a range of views and concerns can be expressed to inform decision-making and help build consensus on the assessment process to be followed. Such processes have to be open, transparent, equitable and allow sufficient time and meaningful process for interested and affected parties to engage. But the session proved to be nothing more than a one-way transmission.

We sat in isolation not knowing who was in attendance. We were muted without the ability to raise our hands. The video was a recorded version of the Scoping Reports. We were restricted to typing vetoed questions unsure if they would be taken into consideration. There were no responses and no room for engagement. Our rights to an equitable and effective participation were being violated”, said Avena Jacklin from groundWork, Friends of the Earth SA.

SLR’s public participation plans approved by the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) did not satisfy regulatory and scoping phase requirements as interested parties must include those indirectly affected by a proposed activity. Coastal fishing communities and small-scale fishers recognized by DEFF were explicitly left out. Site notices and radio notices were not used to notify potentially impacted people. The methods of consulation catered exclusively for those with digital and online platforms. With load-shedding, many more were excluded from this process. Civil society including research and conservation groups, NGOs and community groups have been shocked at SLR’s unjust and rushed public participation process at a time when global oil and gas companies continue to be challenged and themselves struggling to puff up their worth.

Prospecting drilling, seismic testing and associated electromagnetic waves will potentially impact Marine Protected Areas including a Critical Biodiversity Area (CBA).  CBAs are of particular concern because they are protected areas required to meet biodiversity targets for ecosystems, species and ecological processes. Key biodiversity authorities, institutes, researchers and conservation groups were left out of the public participation plan.  Critical parties involved in disaster management planning and response were also not included to address key risks such as a blowout. The uncontrolled release of oil and gas after a system failure could have devastating impacts on people and the environment. Preparation for any incident and accident is lacking in the report as is information related to TOTAL’s Brulpadda failures in the very same waters as the proposed 10 new drills.

SLR posted the deadline of 25th of June 2020 in order to register as an interested and affected party for an online consultation on the 16th of July and then responses to be submitted by the 20th of July.  SLR’s ability to be independent, take into consideration national regulations and risk is questionable, as is the environmental consultancy’s ability to engage meaningfully with impacted communities and assess the needs and desirability of fossil fuels projects in the current climate.

It is clear that SLR and Total have plotted dirty tricks to muffle people’s rights to a fair and equitable public participation process in Minister Mantashe’s push for petroleum. As South Africans push through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, their rights as citizens continue to be violated. And at a time when everyone should be keeping an eye on rising carbon, global temperatures and climate change impacts.

Avena Jacklin: Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, groundWork;
Tsepang Molefe: Media Liaison, groundWork; +27 74 405 1257;

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