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Shell show to go on

A banner on the Durban beachfront last weekend, held by protesters against Shell’s exploring for oil and gas off the Wild Coast. Picture: Duncan Guy

A banner on the Durban beachfront last weekend, held by protesters against Shell’s exploring for oil and gas off the Wild Coast. Picture: Duncan Guy

Published Dec 4, 2021


Protests against Shell and for the safety of marine life are set to continue, as is further litigation, in spite of the petrol giant having won a court battle yesterday to explore for oil and gas off the Wild Coast.

Sixty-nine protest events are planned along the KZN coast tomorrow, and a mass march is scheduled on Durban’s beachfront promenade next Sunday.

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Yesterday, the Makhanda High Court gave Shell the green light to explore for oil and gas off the Wild Coast.

“I don’t think the judge understands what the destruction of marine life means,” Desmond d’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) told the Independent on Saturday, referring to the court ruling.

Four environmental and human rights organisations filed an urgent interim interdict against Shell to prevent the petroleum giant from starting a seismic survey along the Wild Coast, citing the harmful impact on marine life and, in turn, local communities. The court rejected the application with costs.

“Litigation is far from over,“ said Janet Solomon, founder of Oceans not Oil, which has spearheaded protests.

“There is a second interdict lodged that Shell must face on December 14, which comes from the viewpoint of rural communities and the fact that indigenous communities live on 20% of the land and protect 80% of the remaining natural resources. It also refers to new research that has been done since 2014.

“(The government’s) offshore oil and gas (Operation) Phakisa stood on a cobra when it woke the Wild Coast.”

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Solomon added that it was “disappointing that the silks were unable to argue reasonable apprehension of irreparable harms from lethal to sub lethal, all through the marine bioweb”.

The second case will involve an application by a string of organisations, including representatives of local communities against Shell and government departments. They say they were never consulted about the exploration, said environmental lawyer Richard Spoor.

Rather, they understood that Shell had engaged with four kings through a Richard Stevenson whom the kingship of Eastern Pondoland knew nothing about.

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Spoor said there had been changes to legislation with regard to a proper environmental impact assessment since the company made its application, which would be important in fighting the case.

There was also a moral consideration Shell should look at.

“If they are going to do something as serious as this, at least they can do a proper environmental impact assessment,” he said.

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"We want them to do the EIA. We are not saying they cannot do this (exploration). A lot has changed since 2013 (before the requirements changed). Our understanding is that seismic activity has changed and developed a lot,“ said Spoor.

Elaborating on tomorrow’s events, the SDCEA said that numerous organisations would march to the Mzamba Estuary in solidarity with the Amadiba Crisis Committee (formed in 2007 against mining in Pondoland) “to send a message to Shell bosses and shareholders to stop the company from carrying out the seismic survey on the Wild Coast”.

“It has the potential to destroy our beautiful ocean heritage as well as negatively affect the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on the ocean for a living, like the fisher folk, tourism and recreational industry,” it said.

The SDCEA also highlighted the concerns of people who enjoyed the beach for their health.

”Oil and gas drilling will not only affect our marine biodiversity and livelihoods, but it will also add to climate change that has catastrophic consequences like extreme weather conditions which we see with cyclone Eloise (in 2019).

“The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that we have until 2030 for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C and avoid catastrophic environmental breakdown, and in order to do this, we have to stop investing in fossil fuels and rather invest in renewables.

“South Africa must not forget its international commitments like the Paris Agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions within its jurisdiction.”

D’Sa went on to say that the judge was also probably unaware of the importance of marine life as a resource to subsistence fishing people during these times of high unemployment.

He stressed that while yesterday’s court ruling was a disappointment, it also gave a boost of energy to the ongoing battle against Shell that dated back to the company continuing its presence in South Africa during apartheid.

Shell welcomed the Makhanda High Court’s decision, saying it would help move the seismic survey forward in accordance with its regulatory approval and permitting.

“Shell has long experience in collecting offshore seismic data and has taken great care to prevent or minimise potential impacts on fish, marine mammals and other wildlife,” said spokesperson Pam Ntaka.

“We have conducted an environmental study in line with regulatory requirements and obtained legal permits to carry out the activity.

“Currently, South Africa is highly reliant on energy imports for many of its energy needs. Should viable resources be found offshore, this could significantly contribute to the country’s energy security and the government’s economic development programmes.”

The Independent on Saturday