The High Court in Makanda in the Eastern Cape has barred significant oil and gas company Shell from exploring the Wild Coast as part of its expedition for oil and gas for now on Tuesday, 28 December.
This ruling follows an application lodged by environmental and human rights organizations, including Greenpeace Africa, Natural Justice, Border Deep Sea Angling Association, and the Kei Mouth Ski Boat Club. The organizations sent the application to stop them from proceeding with a seismic survey along the Wild Coast, which was due to begin on 1 December between Port St. Johns and Morgans Bay and includes the areas of Gqeberha, Port Alfred, and East London. A seismic survey involves using air guns to send soundwaves into the water to determine the presence of oil or gas reserves.
The organizations believed that Shell was not within their rights to conduct the survey, nor had the company met environmental obligations, which Shell outrightly defended alongside the Petroleum Agency of SA (PASA). PASA had accepted Shell's application to survey in March 2013. In addition, Shell argued that the seismic testing would not cause any irreversible harm to marine life. However, there have been no reports of marine life death from any previous surveys previously performed.
However, the organizations and their legal representative, Corman Cullinan of law firm Cullinan & Associates, maintained that before changes were made, the law had previously allowed Shell to proceed with the exploration before December 2014, which raises the alarm over Shell's permit to begin the survey.
Cullinan and the organizations stated in a letter penned to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe last month, "An assessment that is over eight years old does not accurately reflect the current local context and the rapidly evolving stresses on marine ecosystems. It is also important to consider the rapidly evolving scientific understanding of the harms to marine ecosystems from these blasts, which has increased substantially since 2013 when the EMPr was submitted." Mantashe's department responded by saying that the project's permit and authorization were valid, informing of an audit conducted in 2020 confirming that all measures taken were still valid. However, the Makhanda Court dismissed this interdict three weeks ago, allowing Shell to proceed with the testing.
A second application was lodged by Dwesa-Cwebe Communal Property Association, Ntshindisk Nongcavu, Sazise Pekayo, and All Rise Attorneys for Climate represented by Richard Spoor Attorneys in December. The applicants mentioned how Shell had failed to consult with the Dwesa-Cweba, Kei Mouth, and Port St. Johns communities about the blasting as they are small-scale fishing communities. Therefore, the survey will negatively affect their environment and echoed the sentiments of the first application stating that Shell still did not obtain the necessary environmental authorization by the law of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).
This application was approved on Tuesday. Judge Gerald Bloem granted the applicants an interdict against Shell and ordered Shell and Minister Gwede Mantashe to pay for the applicants' legal fees. Judge Bloem stated in his ruling that Shell failed to bring forth any evidence that supported their claim that the project would not harm any marine life and that the evidence produced by the applicants backs their claims. He further said that "In all circumstances, it seems to me that the exploration right, which was awarded on the basis of a substantially flawed consultation process, is thus unlawful and invalid."