Southern Africa Bishops “deeply” Concerned about South Africa’s Planned Oil Exploration

Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of South Africa's Mthatha Diocese/Credit: Bishop Sithembele Sipuka

Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa have said they are “deeply” concerned about the planned exploration of oil and gas reserves in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. 

In a Tuesday, December 14 statement shared with ACI Africa, members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) say the seismic evaluation set to be conducted by the Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) will negatively impact on the ocean’s ecosystem. 

"We are deeply disappointed that the government has decided to turn a blind eye on the environmental impact of oil exploration and extraction, especially the prospects of ocean pollution and the serious harm that seismic techniques used to explore for oil under the ocean floor would inflict on ocean ecosystems," the Catholic Church leaders say in the statement signed by SACBC President, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka. 

They add in reference to Pope Francis’  during a conference held at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in  June 2018, “The rising greenhouse gas levels are disturbing and a cause for real concern. Yet even more worrying is the continued search for new fossil fuel reserves, whereas the Paris Agreement clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground.” 

SACBC members say they are “disappointed” by the South African government’s decision to support the exploration of gas and oil a month after attending the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) where the need for the world to keep fossil fuels under the ground, if temperature rises are to be kept within 1.5C, was “repeatedly stated.”


“Time is running out on global and national efforts to phase out fossil fuels and prevent ‘climate catastrophe,’” SACBC members say. 

In November, RDSa.L docked its seismic survey ship, Amazon Warrior, at the Cape Town Harbor in preparation for oil exploration, which is set to be conducted between December and February 2022.  

Environmental activists and local fishermen moved to court to stop RDSaL’s planned survey, which was reportedly authorized by the country’s Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy. 

Last week, the High Court gave RDSaL a nod to continue the seismic survey. The survey will involve the generation of acoustic sound signals that will be transmitted into the earth's surface and reflect the different geological layers in the ground.

In their December 14 statement, the Catholic Bishops from South Africa, Botswana, and Eswatini call on the South African government to review and stop all the projects that the government has in the pipeline for gas and oil exploration, including the current one in the Eastern Cape off the coast between Morgan Bay and Port St Johns.  

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“Given the sense of urgency around the climate crisis, we also ask the government to revise the emission reduction targets that the cabinet announced in September 2021 so that they are Paris Agreement compatible and have the capacity to open a greater window of opportunity for South Africa to mobilize climate finance,” SACBC members say. 

In the September 2021 virtual Special Cabinet Meeting, South African ministers adopted a resolution to reduce emissions targets to a range of 350-420 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) by 2030.

The Cabinet also approved interventions that will contribute towards the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in South Africa. 

Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.