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Shell's seismic blasting vessel met with protest by Cape environmentalists

Protesters entered the water around the Amazon Warrior as she approaches Cape Town Harbour. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Protesters entered the water around the Amazon Warrior as she approaches Cape Town Harbour. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 22, 2021


Cape Town - The Amazon Warrior, a 130m-long seismic blasting vessel hired by oil giant Shell, arrived in Cape Town Harbour on Sunday morning, only to be met by a large gathering of environmental activists and concerned citizens opposed to the oil and gas exploration by Shell Exploration and Production.

This was the ship’s last stop before it was set to begin a seismic survey searching for oil and gas on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast.

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A petition against this oil exploration, which was fast approaching 150 000 signatures, by OceansNotOil said Shearwater GeoServices would begin the five-month survey in December and drag up to 48 air guns methodically through 6 011km² of ocean surface, firing shock wave emissions that penetrate through 3km of water and 40km into the Earth’s crust below the seabed.

South African Association for Marine Biological Research conservation strategist Judy Mann said marine seismic surveys were used by the petroleum industry to map potential deposits of oil and gas under the seabed – they did this exploration to see if there was oil or gas, in sufficient quantities, to start exploratory drilling, which was the next phase in the process before extraction or mining.

Mann said the potential short-term, non-sustainable benefits to be gained from oil and gas were largely outweighed by the environmental risks posed by exploring and using non-renewable energy resources, especially along this vulnerable coastline.

As part of the growing campaign against this venture, various environmental organisations, activists and concerned individuals teamed up to “unwelcome” the Amazon Warrior when it arrived in Cape Town and continued their efforts with a protest walk from Muizenberg Beach to Kalk Bay Beach on Sunday.

Around 100 protesters stand on the harbour wall holding posters and chanting in protest. Picture: Armand Hough/ African News Agency (ANA)

Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DEFF) spokesperson Albi Modise said Impact Africa Limited applied for exploration rights in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Development Resources Act (MPRDA) in 2013, which was approved by the minister responsible for Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) or his delegate, in terms of MPRDA.

Modise said the DEFF were not involved in any aspect of this decision-making process for the proposed exploration activities, including the environmental impacts thereof, particularly as the application process was finalised prior to the One Environmental System that came into effect in 2014.

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Environmental organisations, activists and concerned individuals gathering at Muizenberg Beach for a protest walk to Kalk Bay Beach to show their dissatisfaction with the Amazon Warrior. Picture: Cathy Douwes/Supplied

Green Connection strategic lead Liz McDaid said: “They've used a legal loophole, there's no environmental authorisation needed, and yet the seismic survey is going to impact marine life and therefore the lives of fishers who depend on the marine resources.”

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said environmentalists were making the debate linear because energy poverty was not being factored in.

Regarding the transition to renewable energy Mantashe said there has been a lot of growth, they issued Bid Window 5 last week which was set to be followed by Big Window 6 in January and then Bid Window 7 for the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).

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Mantanshe said, "Sometimes this uproar of renewables is not about renewables, it's about killing all other technologies in energy. I think that is counterproductive. We are a developing economy with energy poverty and we must deal with that issue carefully and navigate the transition in a just and inclusive way."

If they approved a project, Mantashe said the project knows they must get environmental assessment, water assessments and many others done.

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