Stop Shell’s Wild Coast survey, top SA scientists beg Ramaphosa

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Stop Shell’s Wild Coast survey, top SA scientists beg Ramaphosa

Oil giant threatens to walk away from the project if it isn’t allowed to get going with it in December

Senior reporter
Cape Town cartoonist and illustrator Chip Snaddon is one of many artists who has used the Shell logo to criticise the company for its seismic testing off the Wild Coast.
WE SHELL NOT BE MOVED Cape Town cartoonist and illustrator Chip Snaddon is one of many artists who has used the Shell logo to criticise the company for its seismic testing off the Wild Coast.
Image: Supplied

A group of prominent SA marine scientists on Thursday called on the government to halt Shell’s seismic survey along the Wild Coast due to concerns about harmful impacts.

Shell was due to commence acoustic surveying along the Wild Coast on Wednesday, but it faces a legal challenge in the Makhanda high court where environmental groups have applied for an urgent interdict to halt the project. Marine tracking websites showed the survey vessel in place off the coast of Morgan Bay.

In a letter to the government, the objecting scientists claim recent scientific studies suggest that seismic surveys are harmful to both large marine mammals, like whales and dolphins, and to tiny plankton. The letter is addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa and cabinet members Gwede Mantashe and Barbara Creecy.

The scientists include several leading global figures in the fields of marine biology and marine ecology, including Dr Larry Oellermann, CEO of the SA Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR); Prof Kenneth Findlay, research chair: Oceans Economy, Centre for Sustainable Oceans, Cape Peninsula University of Technology; and Prof Isabelle Ansorge, head of the University of Cape Town’s oceanography department.

“SA’s marine ecosystems, and the coastal community’s sustainable blue economies that depend on their health, are being threatened by the deployment of offshore seismic surveying,” the letter states. “There is a growing body of evidence pointing to the immediate and long-term, and largely unmitigable, negative impacts of this invasive method on marine creatures.

Their entire case is based on speculative harm, which is belied by the actual evidence and experience of seismic surveys around the world.
Shell lawyer Adrian Friedman

“We point out that much of this evidence, and a growing global opposition to this method of surveying [it has been stopped in some countries’ exclusive economic zones], has only come to light after the granting of current permits, notwithstanding their questionable legal status,” the group said.

The Makhanda high court is expected to deliver a verdict on Friday regarding the urgent interdict, which could scupper Shell’s offshore ambitions. The oil giant’s legal representatives told the court that Shell may have to walk away from the project should it be prevented from surveying this month. “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,” Shell lawyer Adrian Friedman argued in court. “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.”

However in their letter the scientists say there are numerous scientific and regulatory concerns with seismic surveys, including an alleged “deficiency in the current Environmental Impact Regulations” related to the technology. “This omission must be rectified before any further permits are considered,” the group said. They have also requested a strategic environmental assessment of all current and future seismic surveys “to determine key environmental and social constraints and sensitivities”.

The group also claims the surveys, which seek to assess the viability of offshore gas extraction, contradict SA's commitment at October’s global climate conference (COP26) to move away from hydro-carbon-based energy. 


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