Permanent Interdict Sought to Stop Shell’s Seismic Survey Off the Wild Coast of South Africa

  • Nine applicants have filed heads of argument at the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court to permanently interdict Shell from conducting a seismic survey off the Wild Coast of South Africa.
  • The applicants are made up of local communities, civil society organisation’s and environmental heavy weights like Greenpeace.
  • This follows a ruling made in the Grahamstown High Court back in late December 2021 which ordered Shell to immediately cease its seismic blasting along South Africa’s Wild Coast pending the hearing of Part B of the application – which seeks the court to review and set aside an exploration right allowing the survey to take place.
  • The applicants also want the court to review and set aside the subsequent renewals of the exploration right- in 2017 and 2021 which they believe were unlawful and invalid.

Before the interdict came into effect in late December last year, the world’s largest seismic ship operated by Shell Exploration and Production SA’s partner, Shearwater GeoServices, the Seismic Warrior, had started to drag up to 48 air guns methodically through 6 011km² of ocean surface from Morgan Bay to Port St Johns for a period of 5 months. The air guns fire extremely loud shock wave emissions that penetrate through 3km of water and 40km into the Earth’s crust below the seabed. The blasting causes waves of sound of up to 220 decibels to reverbrate in the surrounding ocean which may harm ecologically sensitive marine life.

The applicants believe the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) did not take into account a number of “critical considerations” in granting the exploration right. The applicants believe the blasting will cause “significant and irreparable harm” to marine life in the affected area, and this, in turn, will impact the livelihood, constitutional and customary rights of coastal communities. “These omissions render the grant of the exploration right and Shell’s seismic blasting unlawful and invalid,” the court papers read.

The applicants also claim that that Shell and Impact Africa did not obtain the required environmental authorisation under the National Environmental Management Act No. 107 of 1998 (NEMA) to conduct the survey, nor were affected communities adequately consulted.

The applicants also seek a declaratory order – that a holder of an exploration right under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) – may not undertake any seismic survey, without being granted an environmental authorisation by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), under the NEMA.

The applicants believe that the approval of Shell’s Environmental Management Programme (EMPR) by the Petroleum Agency SA and DMRE is not equivalent to an environmental authorisation under the NEMA.

The applicants want the court to “finally interdict” Shell from undertaking seismic survey operations under the exploration right.

Related news: It is not ‘foreign forces’, it is the people of South Africa that are fed up with Gwede Mantashe

The respondents in the matter include Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, Shell Exploration and Production in South Africa, and Impact Africa Limited and BG International Limited.

Subsequent to the interdict issued in December 2021, Mantashe has embarked on a consultation process with local communities. Read more

The case will be heard over three days from 30 May to 1 June 2022.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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