SASOL’s Paris-based subcontractor, CGG Services, is due to start exploring for gas and oil off the KwaZulu-Natal coast on Saturday.

This comes as the Petroleum Association of SA (Pasa) has also granted a prospecting licence to American oil and gas giant Exxon-Mobil which is expected to start a seismic survey.

Sasol and Exxon-Mobil are the first companies to be granted licences but Pasa is also considering several applications from local and foreign companies seeking to begin exploration work off the east coast of SA.

The exploration work is also coming after the National Assembly on Wednesday passed the contentious Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Act.

The bill, one of whose main objectives is to boost beneficiation, empowers the minister to impose export controls on any designated minerals. Among the most contentious of the clauses is the one that allows the state a free-carry interest of 20% of any future oil and gas finds.

Another clause allows the state to increase its interest in the operations of an oil or gas project up to 100%, by acquiring a further entitlement of 80% at “agreed prices”.

Eloise Costandius, of environmental management company CCA Environmental, said: “We have got notification that CGG will be starting on March 15.

“They will doing everything, including taking rock formation and going to test them for oil and gas.

“This is a large area and ranges from the Mozambique border down to the south coast.”

She also said that the exploration will include the firing of thousands of sound waves into the sea, with the use of airguns, to build up a geological profile of the seabed where oil and gas may be located.

Exxon-Mobil spokesman Zakithi Zama said the company’s exploration arm, Exploration and Production SA, was in the early stages of planning exploration activities in the Deep-Water Durban exploration area.

She said they were in the process of converting their exploration right permit to a 12.4-million acre area in the DeepWater Durban Basin.

“Our proposed work programme includes undertaking a geological survey and other activities to assess the likelihood of there being the potential for hydrocarbon deposits in the DeepWater Durban exploration area.

“The purpose of the exploration programme is to investigate the subsea geological structures to determine the presence of hydrocarbons (oil and gas) within the proposed exploration area. The proposed programme is expected to commence in 2015 subject to government approval,” said Ms Zama.

Jeremy Blood, a senior environmental scientist with CCA Environmental, said the east coast was now getting attention from oil companies after more than five seismic surveys and explorations were conducted on the west coast, ranging from Cape Town Sea Point to the Namibian border last year alone.