TotalEnergies, Shell in fresh SA oil exploration bid


TotalEnergies SE and Shell Plc are seeking to drill oil exploration wells off South Africa’s southwest coast months after two attempts to conduct seismic surveys in the country’s waters were thwarted by legal challenges.

TotalEnergies is seeking comments from “interested and affected” parties and has invited them to participate in public meetings on the proposed program, SLR Consulting, which has been contracted to conduct an environmental assessment, said in the notice dated April 19, seen by Bloomberg.

“The main purpose of the pre-application phase is to provide initial notification to stakeholders and specifically to identify and develop the stakeholder database for the project,” SLR said in a response to queries. This will ensure SLR has a comprehensive database for future stakeholder engagement and more information will be released in May, the company said.

Shell was blocked from carrying out a seismic survey off the country’s south coast in December after local communities took legal action against it, saying they hadn’t been consulted and the programme may harm marine life and disrupt fishing. Last month Searcher Seismic abandoned exploration off the west coast after a court ordered it to halt activity. Still, in both cases a later ruling could allow a resumption of exploration, though Searcher Seismic said it won’t return.

TotalEnergies hasn’t responded to requests for comment since Thursday. It has said on its website that it plans to drill one exploration well in the area and then, if it is successful, as many as four more.

The notice, sent out on behalf of TotalEnergies, is in three widely-spoken languages in South Africa — English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa — and details plans to explore a 10 000 square kilometre (3,861 square miles) part of a block off the coast between Cape Town and Cape Agulhas.

The block is between 60 kilometres and 170 kilometres offshore and covers water depths of between 700 metres and 3.2 kilometres. In addition to TotalEnergies and Shell, the government’s Petroleum Oil & Gas Corp of South Africa is a partner.

TotalEnergies has made two gas condensate discoveries in 2019 and 2020 off the South African coast.