TotalEnergies chief executive Patrick Pouyanne has responded to green groups in Cape Town and Paris which have described the company’s planned gas project offshore South Africa as a “climate bomb” and threaten to organise “citizen resistance” against the scheme.

On 17 October, two non-profits — South Africa’s The Green Connection and France-based Bloom — published an open letter calling on Pouyanne to ditch TotalEnergies’ Luiperd and Brulpadda gas and condensate project.

This $3 billion scheme off the south coast aims to send gas to the Mossel Bay gas-to-liquids plant and, later on, to power stations.

Liziwe McDaid of The Green Connection and Bloom’s Claire Nouvian outlined how their two organisations had joined forces to launch the Our Ocean: Total Destruction campaign and called on TotalEnergies to stop the South African project.

They described the gas scheme as “a conceptual fraud that tries to portray a switch from coal to gas as a green energy transition”.

In last month’s open letter to Pouyanne, the pair used highly emotive language to describe the company’s global upstream activities.

“You are set to ravage Uganda, Tanzania and other African countries. You destroy the boreal forests of Canada. You frack rocks and trash Argentina. You support anti-democratic petro-regimes. You violate human rights. And now, you are taking on the ocean.

“Mr Pouyanne, if you persist in your morbid obsession with record profits, if you persist in your anti-ecological blindness, we will organise citizen resistance to prevent you from derailing the climate, trashing nature, destroying our future and sacrificing youth.”

In Pouyanne’s measured response — which TotalEnergies made public yesterday — he confirmed the supermajor and its partners had applied for a production licence two months ago, after which an environmental and societal impact assessment process was initiated to satisfy South African regulations.

“This assessment,” Pouyanne wrote, “will provide a detailed description of the project’s economic, social and environmental impacts, the measures planned to preserve the environment, and the related social and economic benefits.

“A survey has been launched to map the marine species including, potentially, marine mammals, to model the potential impact of production activities (especially noise) and to define any measures to be taken.”

He pointed out TotalEnergies has voluntarily reduced the scope of its licence application by excluding a protected marine area.

The first public meeting on the project will be held late this year, Pouyanne explained, noting all stakeholders’ “observations, expectations and concerns will be considered, including through socio-economic development initiatives”.

South Africa’s economy relies on coal for energy, with TotalEnergies’ letter highlighting this fuel’s higher emissions compared with natural gas and its particulate pollution.

“The use of gas to replace coal combustion for electricity generation halves CO2 emissions and drastically reduces air pollution. The atmosphere will benefit from the avoided emissions made possible by this gas development,” the letter stated.

South Africa’s government wants to reduce dependence on coal, with gas set to play a key role alongside renewables, while at the same time tackling load shedding and power cuts.

Pouyanne said TotalEnergies is developing a portfolio of solar and wind projects in South Africa, including a solar plant in the Northern Cape, and was successful in recent renewables supply tenders.

“TotalEnergies is positioning itself in accordance with public policy to contribute to the evolution of the country’s energy mix as part of a just transition that will require a move away from coal, a sharp increase in renewable energies, and the use of gas as a transition fuel.”

Pouyanne said the company is “available to discuss the challenges addressed by your organisations, as well as your concerns and expectations of TotalEnergies”.

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