Royal Dutch Shell to temporarily halt it’s seismic survey in South Africa’s Wild Coast

The Grahamstown High Court in Makhanda, South Africa, December 28, 2021, directed Royal Dutch Shell plc to immediately cease its seismic blasting along South Africa’s Wild Coast. The court ordered Shell and Gwede Mantashe, minister of mineral resources and energy, to pay the costs of the application.

Judge Gerald Bloem said Shell was under the obligation to consult with the communities and people who held customary rights, and who would be impacted by the seismic survey. It added that Shell did not do so.

It was essential that Shell consulted these communities and understood how the seismic blasting may impact them, the judgment said.

The judge noted that the exploration right awarded to Shell was based on a flawed consultation process and therefore, was unlawful and invalid.

The applicants’ right to meaningful consultation constitutes a prima facie right that deserves to be protected by way of an interim interdict, the judgment passed by the High Court in the Eastern Cape division said.

The local communities had taken recourse to legal action to block the project. The groups were granted an interim interdict that will stand until a ruling can be made on whether further environmental authorization is required.

We respect the court’s decision and have paused the survey while we review the judgment. If viable resources were to be found offshore, this could significantly contribute to the country’s energy security.

The seismic survey was planned to be conducted by Shell and Impact Africa Ltd between December 2021 and February 2022. Shell had started the seismic blasting on December 8, 2021.

Government nod for seismic survey approved in 2014

Impact Africa Ltd had submitted an application to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA), seeking Exploration Right to explore for oil and gas in the Transkei and Algoa Exploration Areas off the East Coast of South Africa.

PASA accepted Impact Africa’s application March 1, 2013, and ordered a public participation process to be conducted.

The purpose of undertaking such exploration activities, according to Impact Africa, is to investigate the subsea geological structures to determine the presence of naturally occurring hydrocarbons: Oil and gas.

PASA and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy issued Impact Africa with the Exploration Right, May 20, 2014. This right was renewed in 2017 and then in 2020, effective for a period of two years from August 2021.

Impact Africa’s Environmental Management Programme (EMPr) final report June 2013 for Transkei and Algoa exploration areas stated that the seismic survey involves extremely loud (220 decibels) underwater explosions or discharges at intervals of 10-20 seconds, which continue entire day for four-five months.

The EMPr provides that a vessel will tow an airgun array with up to 12 or more lines of hydrophones spaced 5-10 metres apart and between 3 and 25 metres below the water surface. The array can be upwards of 12,000 metres long and 1,200 metres wide.

Several South African marine scientists sent an open letter December 2, 2021, to president Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, and Minister of Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy, calling on the government to halt the seismic survey.

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