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Poor and coastal communities to suffer at the hands of Shell seismic surveys

At least 100 protesters gathered at Shell Petrol Station on Paradise Road (M3) chanting “to hell with Shell” in protest of the ongoing seismic survey along the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

At least 100 protesters gathered at Shell Petrol Station on Paradise Road (M3) chanting “to hell with Shell” in protest of the ongoing seismic survey along the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 5, 2021

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Poor and coastal communities will feel the brunt of Shell’s decision to continue its seismic surveys on the Wild Coast warned environmental organisation Groundwork.

The organisation’s senior manager for climate and energy justice, Avena Jacklin highlighted that to limit global warming, 2021 needs to mark the end of new investments in coal and new oil and gas supply.

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“More committed action is required if we are to reduce the devastating impacts of climate change on Africa which will be the hardest hit, and in particular its poor and coastal communities,” she said.

She added: “This strain on water resources intensifies vulnerabilities such as displacement of communities.

“It also works against water conservation and ecosystem strategies required to build climate resilience.”

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Following the announcement of Dutch Oil company Shell’s seismic blasting along the Wild Coast of South Africa, two urgent interdicts were issued this past week, to halt the activity.

The first application was brought by four environmental groups and law firm Cullinan and Associates but was rejected by the Makhanda High Court on Friday.

Acting Judge Avinash Govindjee said the applicants failed to convince him that there was a reasonable apprehension of “irreparable harm” if the interdict were not granted.

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The application for the urgent interdict was dismissed.

One of the applicants, Greenpeace Africa’s senior climate energy and campaign manager, Happy Khambule, said the decision to allow Shell to continue with its plans to destroy the Wild Coast was disappointing.

“Not only will the blasting destroy precious biodiverse ecosystems, but it will also destroy the livelihoods of local communities, all in the name of profit,” he said.

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He added: “We will continue to support the nationwide resistance against Shell and pursue the legal avenue to stop Shell.”

Riding on the back of the judgment, the Amadiba Crisis Committee chose to issue a request for an urgent interdict against Shell on Friday. The application will be heard in the Makhanda High Court on Tuesday.

Nonhle Mbuthuma from the Crisis Committee said they want to tell Shell that it must back off because what they’re doing was bad for the environment and marine life.

“They must leave our environment alone. We cannot compromise our livelihood to make profits,” she said.

In 2019, a seismic testing and offshore drilling ban was passed by the United States House of Representatives.

In 2018, New Zealand banned all offshore oil exploration including seismic testing.

Jacklin said Shell’s seismic surveying was only the tip of the iceberg.

“We are outraged at the government’s approval of Shell and Impact Africa’s plans to conduct seismic surveying despite recent emission reduction commitments at COP26, nationwide public disapproval, legal letters and scientists’ warnings of ecological, social and economic destruction.”

Jacklin said South Africa needs a policy that protects the common heritage of its people.

“It should promote an open democracy and stop all fossil fuel investment and development in our country, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and throughout Africa,” she said.

An Eastern Cape fuel supplier, Express Petroleum, cut its ties with Shell, and dropped Shell branding from its petrol stations and vehicles, ahead of a controversial seismic survey.

In a Facebook post last Friday, Express Petroleum said it is “extremely passionate about South Africa and care deeply for the future sustainability for our pristine coastlines”.

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) told the Weekend Argus that it had noted concerns about the seismic survey Shell would carry out for a period of four to five months.

“As part of the application for an exploration right, applicants were required to develop an environmental management programme (EMPR) in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (MPRDA), which in this instance was approved in 2013 by the DMRE.”

They added: “The exploration right was subsequently granted by the department in April 2014, allowing the holder to, amongst other activities, acquire 3-dimensional seismic.”

The department said an independent audit was undertaken in 2020 to confirm that the controls and mitigation measures of this are still valid.

“In May 2020, a notification was sent to the interested and affected party database to comment on the independent audit report.”

They said the outcomes of the audit were that the measures contained in the environmental management programme (EMPR) sufficiently provided for the avoidance and mitigation of potential environmental impacts.

“The development of the upstream oil and gas industry is part of South Africa’s economic recovery strategy.”

Media relations officer for Shell South Africa Pam Ntaka said Shell welcomed the court’s decision to dismiss the interdict, as it would help move the seismic survey forward in accordance with its regulatory approval and permitting.

“Shell has long experience in collecting offshore seismic data and has taken great care to prevent or minimize potential impacts on fish, marine mammals and other wildlife.”

She added: “We have conducted an environmental study in line with regulatory requirements and obtained legal permits to carry out the activity.”

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