Durban - President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday unveiled plans to drill at least 30 deep-water oil and gas exploration wells within the next 10 years as part of a multibillion-rand long-term plan to exploit offshore fossil fuels along the country’s 3 000km coastline.
Speaking in Durban, he said studies suggested that South Africa had potential oil reserves of up to 9 billion barrels of oil and 11 billion barrels of natural gas (equivalent to 40 years of current South African oil consumption and 375 years of current gas consumption).
If viable oil and gas reserves were found, the country could possibly extract up to 370 000 barrels of fossil fuels each day within 20 years – the equivalent of 80 percent of current oil and gas imports.
This would create up to 130 000 new jobs and boost GDP growth by 1 percent a year – but weighed against these benefits was the risk of major oil pollution leaks, fish kills, burning offshore wells and massive expenditure to drill wells and create land-based pipelines to transport oil and gas to local industries, power plants and residential homes.
Unveiling the government’s new “blue economy” plans, Zuma said the country was surrounded by a vast ocean whose economic potential remained largely untapped.
Apart from oil and gas exploration, the new maritime component of Operation Phakisa includes major plans for ship repairs, aquaculture (fish-farming) and the possible massive extension of South Africa’s current exclusive economic zone as far south as Marion Island.
The development of the 2 000-page “oceans economy” section of Operation Phakisa (Sotho for Be Quick) had involved more than 650 people from government, academia, industry and other groups.
Other highlights of the new blue economy plan include: the possible creation of a new national shipping line in partnership with South Korea; developing a new Oceans Act, with a draft Oceans Bill to be published next year; creating new ship-repair facilities at Richards Bay that would create 200 new jobs; creating 4 000 new jobs by increasing the volume of minerals exported by ship from South Africa; 24 new fish-farming projects, including new kob and dusky cob fish farms at Mtunzini and Richards Bay; and a new R500 million Aquaculture Development Fund.
However, the expenditure, economic benefits and environmental risks of the offshore oil and gas industry project is likely to capture most public attention.
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