CAPE TOWN - A Decision on whether the controversial Shell seismic survey on the country’s Wild Coast can proceed is expected to be delivered in the Makhanda High Court on Friday.
This after four environmental and human rights organisations filed an urgent interim interdict against Shell to prevent the petroleum giant from commencing a seismic survey along the Wild Coast on Wednesday, citing harmful impact on marine life and in turn local communities.
Judge Avinash Govindjee on Thursday heard arguments from Border Deep Sea Angling Association, Kei Mouth Ski Boat Club, Natural Justice and Greenpeace Africa and respondents, Shell and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.
The surveying ship, the Amazon Warrior has already been spotted in the Eastern Cape ready to look for potential oil or gas deposits.
For the organisations, Advocate Willie Duminy argued that the approved environmental management programme (EMPr) for the seismic surveys makes it clear the survey should not be undertaken during December, unless that cannot be avoided, and that Shell had not established that undertaking it now was unavoidable. Furthermore, he argued there was no evidence of any attempt to identify and inform potential interested and affected parties.
“There is an allegation that the attorney who acted for various Interested affected parties (IAPs) in 2013 had known of the Exploration Right (ER) and approval of the EMPr since that time. The second is a contention that the applicants exaggerate the environmental impacts of the intended 3D seismic survey.
“There is an affidavit by the attorney, Mr Stone, explaining the position. Neither he nor the IAPs he represented received notifications of the outcome of the EMPr process of 2013, or of the granting of the Exploration Right in 2014. As to the second point, the applicants information was obtained largely from the EMPr itself. There is no genuine dispute of fact as to the likelihood of harm to the receiving environment.
“According to page 6-14 of the EMPr, in water depths of 25 to 50 m airgun arrays are often audible to ranges of 50 to 75 km, and with efficient propagation conditions such as experienced on the continental shelf or in deep oceanic water, detection ranges can exceed 100 km and 1000 km respectively (at p15 of the bundle). The harm to the receiving environment does not seem to be capable of being repaired and cannot be addressed by any subsequent remedy,” the organisations argued.
Counsel for the Minister of Minerals and Energy and for Shell both argued that the applicants had neither proved that the seismic surveys would cause significant harm nor that the harm would be irreparable.
Shell also argued that if an interim interdict were granted stopping Shell from starting the surveys in December, it would not be able to complete the surveys within the “window” of suitable time within 2022. Shell argued that it may then have to walk away from the project and that would be detrimental to it, and to the country.
Shell’s lawyer, Adrian Friedman also argued that the applicants had deliberately brought the case on a “hyper urgent” basis in order to gain an unfair advantage and obtain an interim interdict that would achieve the ulterior objective of effectively stopping the project.
“Shell is authorised to conduct the survey pursuant to an EMPr approved by PASA and the Minister in 2014, and which has to date not been challenged. Shell has conducted a previous 2D survey in the same area pursuant to the same authorisation, which survey was not challenged,” Shell said in their heads of argument.
“Their (the applicants) entire case is based on speculative harm, which is belied by the actual evidence and experience of seismic surveys around the world.
“The seismic survey is being conducted pursuant to an economic imperative, to the benefit of the entire country, of energy security. The applicants allege that irreversible harm will be suffered, without explaining what that means.”