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

Shell seismic survey: What authorities say, what Shell says and what the public says

By Yasmine Jacobs Time of article published Dec 12, 2021

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Cape Town – Dutch energy giant Shell will soon be embarking on geographic seismic surveying off the coast of the Eastern Cape and parts of the Western Cape.

It is expected to take up to five months.

The surveying has caused an uproar, with many calling for the end to the plans. This is what different parties say on the matter.


Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe has thrown his weight behind the Shell seismic oil surveys, saying that South Africa “deserves the opportunity to capitalise on its natural resources”.

“We consider the objections to these developments as apartheid and colonialism of a special type, masqueraded as a great interest for environmental protection,” Mantashe said at a press briefing.

Mantashe said that the country’s economic development is oppressed in the name of environmental protection and he appealed to objectors to acknowledge this and allow the exploitation of its natural resources “for the benefit of its citizens”.

High court

Earlier this month, the Makhanda High Court dismissed an interdict to stop Shell from proceeding with a seismic survey off the Eastern Cape coast. The ruling was delivered by Judge Avinash Govindjee.

The court concluded that the applicants had failed to convince the judge that there was a reasonable concern of “irreparable harm” if the interdict weren’t granted. The court added that given the financial and other prejudice to Shell if the seismic surveys were delayed, the “balance of convenience” was in Shell’s favour.


In an open letter, Shell gave assurance that the offshore seismic surveys are “safe”.

“They are a safe mapping technique for gathering information about whether oil or gas may be present deep below the seabed of a given area using sound waves that are directed downwards. The sound produced during seismic surveys is comparable to many naturally occurring and other man-made ocean sounds, including wind and wave action, rainstorms, marine life and shipping,” said Shell, adding that approximately 35 have taken place in recent years with no reported significant negative impact to marine life.


However, not everyone agrees to the plans. There have been various petitions and marches objecting to the seismic oil surveys.

Greenpeace has been vocal about the plans and started a petition against them.

“Shell’s oil and gas exploration involves using airguns to create seismic waves deep into the ocean. These blasts are incredibly harmful to marine life and could even lead to their death. We cannot allow climate criminals, like Shell, to plunder in the name of greed. We cannot allow them to lock us into a fossil-fuelled future, when South Africa needs a just transition to renewable energy to create greener jobs, reduce emissions, and solve our energy crisis,” Greenpeace Africa said in the petition.

Members of the public have also staged protests against the plans.

“We have to show support for those fighting the good fight on behalf of the oceans, to put a stop to seismic surveys and all future fossil fuel extensions from the ocean and desert,” said protester Julie Anderson.

Anderson said activists call on all big oil companies to create a sustainable solution that won’t harm the environment.


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