Cheryl Kahla
Deputy Online News Editor
3 minute read
30 Nov 2021
3:57 pm

Environmental groups approach courts to halt Shell’s Wild Coast seismic tests

Cheryl Kahla

Shell's planned seismic testing along the Wild Coast will cause irreparable harm to whales, dolphins, crayfish, and other sea creatures.

Protestors at the Waterfront waiting for the arrival of the ship Amazon Warrior. They are against the planned Shell seismic survey for oil and gas in the ocean. Picture: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach

Four environmental and human rights organisations on Monday filed an urgent interim interdict against Royal Dutch Shell’s Eastern Cape division.

The applicants – Border Deep Sea Angling Association, Kei Mouth Ski Boat Club, Natural Justice and Greenpeace Africa – said the commencement of seismic tests are prima facie unlawful.

The papers were then filed at the Grahamstown High Court, in an attempt to prevent Shell from commencing seismic testing along South Africa’s Wild Coast.

Cullinan & Associates, an environmental law firm, delivered a certificate of urgency to the registrar on Monday, and respondents had until 4pm on 30 November to oppose the interdict.

Shell’s seismic surveys

‘Prima facie’ unlawful

The fossil-fuel company had planned to start seismic testing off the ecologically diverse and sensitive marine environment on 1 December.

The applicants believe Shell’s actions to be prima facie (on first impression) unlawful “until Shell has applied for and obtained the necessary environmental authorisation”.

Cullinan & Associates wishes to prove Shell’s seismic testing will cause irreparable harm to whales, dolphins, crayfish, endemic reef fish, fish larvae, turtles, birdlife and zooplankton.

Due process not followed

Earlier this month, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment expressed concern about the seismic surveys, which would take place between 1 December 2021 and February 2022.

Even though the surveys had been authorised under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), they would still require the submission of an environmental management plan.

Moreover, Shell failed to inform all affected parties of the granting of the exploration right, and none of the parties were given an opportunity to appeal the seismic testing.

Impact of Shell’s seismic testing

Ecological impact

According to the law firm, the “vessel would, for five months, fire air guns every 10 seconds through 6,011km² of ocean surface, firing extremely loud shock wave emissions”.

This noise is one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean.

READ MORE: Shell seismic survey prompts boycotts and protests.

These shock emissions would penetrate through 3km of water and 40km into the Earth’s crust underneath the seabed, which in turn would disturb the Wild Coast’s sensitive ecological system.

Whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, sharks – and even crabs and tiny shellfish – will be negatively impacted by the explosions, not to mention the impact on tourism.

Impact on tourism

Millions of tourists flock to the Wild Coast’s pristine beaches each year, primarily due to the beauty and biodiversity of the region.

Unfortunately, seismic surveys “have been linked to decreased sightings of marine life and decreased catch rates for commercial fishing”, according to Cullinan & Associates.
“The planned seismic survey and planned activity thereafter will have direct and dire impacts on the social, economic and cultural rights.”

Right to self-determination

Communities of eXolobeni, Nqamakwe and Port St Johns depend on eco-tourism and fishing, and as such, their right to self-determination would be taken away.

Moreover, the land is ingrained in these communities’ identity and heritage, and their sacred right as the “stewards of our seas, land, and biodiversity far outweigh the selfish interests [of] Shell”.

Expert evidence will be submitted to “expose how irrational and socially unjust” Shell’s actions are, and that continuing the search for oil and gas reserves would cause catastrophic climate change.

The matter will be heard in Grahamstown and argued virtually at 2pm on 1 December 2021.