Nica Richards
Deputy online news editor
4 minute read
9 Dec 2021
4:16 pm

How ‘just’ are SA’s energy transition plans?

Nica Richards

Gas is still a fossil fuel, with renewables being a far cleaner option, environmental groups are arguing.

So far, 20 exploration rights licences have been approved onshore, and 18 offshore, with 'open acreage' still advertised in South Africa’s oceans. But will gas be a cleaner option for the planet? Picture for illustration: iStock

There are currently big plans in the pipeline to accelerate the rate at which South Africa and its investors explore potential oil and gas resources in the country’s vast oceans. 

This was according to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe during a media briefing discussing the country’s future in the upstream petroleum industry. 

Mantashe said South Africa had “wealth of mineral commodities”, and as such, had drafted an exploration strategy with an implementation plan with its special partners. 

The strategy is hoped to “attract at least 5% of the world’s exploration budget within the short to medium term”, and will be published for public comment soon, he revealed. 

ALSO READ: Objecting to oil, gas exploration a ‘special type of colonialism’, says Mantashe

So far, 20 exploration rights licences have been approved onshore, and 18 offshore, with “open acreage” still advertised in South Africa’s oceans.

SA’s complex ‘just’ energy transition

The strategy forms part of the country’s “just transition” energy plans, to shift reliance from fossil fuels such as coal to renewable energy – and, according to Mantashe, gas. 

“South Africa deserves the opportunity to capitalise on its natural resources including oil and gas, as these resources have been proven to be game changers elsewhere,” he said. 

And objecting to this out of concern for potential environmental impacts is seen as “apartheid and colonialism of a special type, masqueraded as a great interest for environmental protection”.

This is not welcome news for environmental groups, who have so far launched one unsuccessful urgent interdict in an attempt to block Shell’s current 3D seismic survey, with a second urgent interdict to be heard later this month. 

ALSO READ: Shell slapped with a fresh interdict application over Wild Coast seismic survey

“Acceleration of gas development projects will be crucial in the country’s just energy transition, particularly since gas could be a bridging fuel towards a lower carbon economy as it has been scientifically proven that it has lower emissions than other combustible fuels. 

“There is no doubt that sustainable development of indigenous gas resources and their beneficiation will result in significant socio-economic benefits.”

However, environmentalists argue there are much cleaner energy options that do not involve gas, or the exploration and drilling processes required to extract it.

Greenpeace Africa’s senior climate and energy campaign manager, Happy Khambule, told The Citizen that the energy department, in his opinion, is going from coal, to oil, to gas. 

“They think that should the technology exist to keep these fossil fuels viable, that technology must be employed because there is nothing else out there.

“Therefore, in relation to impacts and cleanness of fuels, gas in the mind of the department is cleaner than coal, and yet there already exists entirely clean technologies that meet our energy needs, and those are renewable.” 

ALSO READ: How SA’s addiction to coal is sacrificing the planet to try keep the lights on

Renewables are a better option

Khambule emphasised that the transition to renewable energy is what the world needed, in terms of the climate crisis, but also as consumers. 

“Shell and the global fossil fuel industry knows that fossil fuels are nearing their end, it is no longer automatic that ubiquitous adoption of fossil fuel technologies or products will happen.” 

He said Shell’s argument of wanting to conduct a seismic survey does not hold up, and warned that should Shell find oil or gas deposits, these would be sent to international markets – leaving South Africa and coastal communities “to pay for the damages”. 

Despite the argument for renewable energy, Mantashe said investors needed to be assured of the country’s commitment to “work with them”, and appealed to objectors to allow the “exploitation” of the country’s “resources” to be done “in an environmentally friendly manner”. 

ALSO READ: Renewable energy: Good for the planet and the pockets of South Africans

Mantashe committed to upholding all possible mitigation strategies to ensure that all licensing and exploration is done “with the utmost environmental care”. 

After all, if oil and gas explorations were still being done after 100 years in Germany, 80 years in Saudi Arabia and 50 years in Norway, all countries with “thriving” economies, why should South Africa not give it a go? 

“Africa deserves an equal chance to develop its economics on the strength of her natural resources.” 

Perhaps, even, at the expense of the planet.