Nica Richards
Deputy online news editor
3 minute read
27 Nov 2021
9:06 am

Shell seismic survey prompts boycotts and protests

Nica Richards

Shell plans to conduct a 3D seismic survey along the east coast from 1 December to look for oil and gas - likely at the expense of marine life.

Protest action against Shell's planned seismic survey in Cape Town, as the Amazon Warrior departed the harbour. Photo: Oceans Not Oil

Protests against petroleum giant Shell’s planned 3D seismic survey, scheduled to begin on 1 December, have begun in earnest. 

On Saturday, a group of demonstrators are set to protest and paddle out in opposition to the seismic exploration for oil and gas along the country’s east coast.

This is just one of many organisations fuming over the planned oil and gas exploration activities of Shell.

And with good reason. 

Seismic blasting explained 

Over the next four to five months, Shell plans to blast seismic airgun arrays in water depths of between 700m and 3,000m. 

Airguns produce loud, repetitive blasts as often as every 10 seconds. Pressurised air blasts propel through the ocean, into the seafloor, to look for fuel sources.

Marine organisation Oceana reports that airgun noise can reduce fish catch rates, and disrupt marine mammal behaviour, in the form of feeding, mating, communicating and avoiding predators. 

Boycotts, protests against Shell seismic blasting
Image source: Oceana

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

The noise from the blasts causes stress and injury, which can result in death and low reproductive rates. 

Blasts can also kill the smallest of marine organisms, such as zooplankton, the base of food chains under the water. 

According to the notice issued by Shell earlier this month, the survey is planned to cover around 6,011km2, between Port St Johns and Morgans Bay. 

Protests, boycotts on Shell's seismic survey
Image: SLR Consulting

Shell will be using the services of Shearwater GeoServices to conduct the survey.

Fishermen have been asked to “keep out of the way of the seismic operation” as well, with the survey threatening the livelihood of the region’s local fishing community in addition to its wildlife.

Not in environmental affairs’ mandate

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) said in a statement on Monday it “noted concerns” about the survey, but said it had been authorised under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA). 

Essentially, this means it does not fall under DFFE’s jurisdiction, but under the Department of Resources and Energy. 

“The Minister responsible for environmental affairs is not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey…

“All decisions made under the MPRDA at the time remain valid and binding, until set aside by a court of law,” the department said. 

The DMRE has not yet responded to any concerns raised by The Citizen in terms of marine safety.

Meanwhile, Shearwater GeoServices’ Amazon Warrior vessel, the ship which will be carrying out the survey, is already in South African waters.

Shell seismic survey prompts boycotts and protests
The Amazon Warrior. Photo: Oceans Not Oil

Boycotts begin

The Independent reported on Saturday that six petrol stations in the KwaZulu-Natal area have decided to boycott Shell, after repeated queries and concerns regarding the survey were not answered. 

CEO of Express Petroleum told the publication Russell Wells said the survey will be taking place close to him, and that it was important for him and his customers to get answers on the potential impact of the airgun blasts.