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Another seismic defeat for oil giant Shell

September 09, 2022
topics: Energy
by: Cyril Zenda
located in: South Africa
tags: oil and gas industry, oil exploration, Royal Dutch Shell, South Africa

Wild celebrations erupted in South Africa after a court ended attempts by Royal Dutch Shell Plc. to conduct harmful seismic oil and gas exploration off the country’s eastern coast, ruling that its exploration rights were illegal.

Indigenous communities, environmentalists and fishing groups in South Africa are celebrating a court ruling that stopped global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell Plc. from conducting seismic oil and gas explorations along the country’s eastern coastline.

Dubbed Africa's 'Wild Coast,' the coastline is a pristine area that is home to some of the world's largest concentrations of marine mammals.

After a protracted court battle that started in December last year, the court finally ruled in favour of local communities, environmental groups and activists who coalesced to stop the controversial exploration.

In a 40-page judgment, Judge President Selby Mbenenge found that Shell’s exploration right was unlawfully granted as it failed to satisfy the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA) by not taking into consideration the interests of other stakeholders and set aside any further renewal of the exploration right. The judge ordered the multinational corporation to pay the costs of the plaintiff's legal fees.

Among the issues that had infuriated wildlife conservationists, environmentalists, scientists, human rights groups, fishermen and local communities - as well as other stakeholders - was Shell's failure to obtain clearance for its planned exploration under the country’s National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). The stakeholders also argued that they were not meaningfully consulted, and that no regard was given to the impact on marine life and the environment.

A Five-Month Blasting plan halted

Shell’s controversial 3D seismic survey planned for the Wild Coast involved the use of the an exploration ship, Amazon Warrior, to drag up to 48 air guns methodically through 6,011 square kilometres of ocean surface, firing extremely loud shock wave emissions that penetrate through 3km of water and 40km into the earth’s crust below the seabed.

The ship was scheduled to work around the clock for five months, firing the air guns every 10 seconds. 

Ecologists say this violent activity is hurtful to marine life, especially sea mammals, as this causes hearing loss, disturbs their feeding and breeding habits and interferes with their communication systems.

Ruling Welcome, Pleasing

Reinford Sinegugu Zukulu, a South African traditional leader and director of the environmental group that filed the founding affidavit in the lawsuit - Sustaining The Wild Coast, said he was pleased with the judgment.

"The implication of this judgment for us is that it recognises the fact that the climate change is here and that it has got an impact in our lives," Zukulu told FairPlanet in an interview.

"It also recognises the fact that we have the right to be consulted, but more than anything, it highlights that the time to do seismic exploration - is which is going to impact on marine life on which people are dependent - is over."

Liziwe McDaid, Strategic Lead at The Green Connection - one of the community-driven environmental justice organisations involved in the court case - said the victory had vindicated the activists and local communities.

"In South Africa, the success of the Shell case is that people whose rights were trampled on were vindicated," McDaid told FairPlanet, adding that Shell’s defeat is a testament to the power of activism in the fight to protect the environment.

"The success was due to people on the ground who stood up to a multinational and were able to work with NGOs and lawyers to reclaim their right to be heard."

"This is not a victory for the Wild Coast communities fighting to protect the ocean upon which they depend," said Nonhle Mbuthuma,  spokesperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee of the Xolobeni community. "This is a victory against capitalist extraction and destruction of humanity’s common future. This is victory for the whole planet."

Senior gov't officials side with fossil fuel 

Throughout the fight, South Africa’s Mineral Resources and Energy minister, Gwede Mantashe, who has repeatedly expressed his unyielding support for the fossil fuel industry, was always fighting from Shell’s corner. At one point he even lashed out at environmentalists who were staging anti-Shell protests, describing the demonstrations as "apartheid and colonialism of a special type."

Despite South Africa’s climate change commitments, which President Cyril Ramaphosa re-affirmed at last year’s CoP26, Mantashe strangely insisted that his country deserved the opportunity to capitalise on its natural resources, including oil and gas, claiming that these had been proven to be game-changers elsewhere in the world.

"I cannot help but ask myself, are these objections meant to ensure the status quo remains in Africa... of energy poverty?" Mantashe said at a press conference convened especially to defend Shell’s seismic survey.

"Could it be possible that this is an extreme pure love for the environment, or an unrelenting campaign to ensure Africa and SA do not see the investment inflows they need?" Mantashe fumed.

"We consider the objections to these developments as apartheid and colonialism of a special type, masqueraded as a great interest for environmental protection."

Asked why senior South African government officials were openly siding with energy firms at a time when the country should be seen taking practical steps away from hydrocarbon energy sources, Gilbert Martin, founder of We Are South Africans, civil society movement, said these officials were doing it for personal benefit, not for the country.

"Quite simply because they are corrupt and receiving kickbacks, this is not about the benefit of the South African people or the South African economy," Martin told FairPlanet.

His organisation has been running a social media campaign in which it shares what it alleges are firms with links to Shell operations in South Africa that have been bailing out the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party financially. The party often goes for several months without paying its workers and is continuously struggling to meet its many financial obligations.

"I am alarmed that the World Bank and other countries are providing them money based on the fact that it is to reduce our reliance on carbon - this money will be stolen through the government’s corrupt channels and will not reach its intended recipients," he added. "In a year or two you can look back and reflect on the above statement and see that I was correct."

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
South Africa
A giant puppet of a Snoek, a type of common local Mackeral, is displayed as hundreds of people take part in a protest against a plan by Dutch oil company Shell to conduct underwater seismic surveys along South Africa's East coast, at Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town on 5 December, 2021.
© Rodger Bosch
"This is a victory against capitalist extraction and destruction of humanity’s common future. This is victory for the whole planet."
© Rodger Bosch
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