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OFFSHORE OIL EXPLORATION

The Ozzies are coming: Activists gear up for the next seismic survey battle – in Western Cape waters

Hundreds of protesters gather in Muizenberg to protest against the 3D seismic survey commissioned by Shell along the East Coast on 5 December 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

In the wake of the interdict against oil major Shell, which halted its seismic survey to explore for hydrocarbons off the Wild Coast, it has emerged that activists are girding themselves for a battle over another planned seismic survey, in Western Cape waters.

The next round of South Africa’s “seismic wars” pitting activists, communities and conservationists against the oil industry and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) seems set to get under way. 

Australian-based Searcher Seismic is set to commence a seismic survey in Western Cape waters from the middle of this month, according to a “mariners’ notice” it has put out and other information provided on its website.  

“As per Searcher’s commitments to stakeholder consultation and engagement, under our Environmental Management Plan, for the Proposed Speculative 2D and 3D Marine Seismic Survey off the west and southwest coasts of South Africa, (Orange Basin 2D/3D MSS), we wish to ensure that users of the sea are aware of the survey, associated navigational safety and the mechanism to follow for raising concerns,” the notice says. 

“The survey vessel M/V BGP Pioneer shall commence 2D acquisition no earlier than 15th January 2022.”

On its website, the company says: “Searcher has released a new multiclient 2D and 3D seismic rectification project Offshore South Africa, in collaboration with the Petroleum Agency of South Africa.” 

Seismic surveys have become a flashpoint in South Africa in the wake of a campaign against Shell’s Wild Coast exploration activities, which culminated in a late December interdict halting the process which was spearheaded by the Legal Resources Centre and Richard Spoor Attorneys.  

Environmental activists maintain that the surveys are lethal for marine life, not least because of jarring and loud discharges, while the industry maintains that they are environmentally sound. South Africa’s coast remains relatively unexplored in terms of hydrocarbon potential, but the global tide of public opinion is turning against fossil fuel use because of its links to the climate crisis. 

So, the stage is being set for further skirmishes, as Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has made it clear that he is keenly in favour of developing South Africa’s hydrocarbon industry.  

An online petition against the survey has been launched on vuma.earth, which is essentially a portal for such activism.  

A number of aspects remain murky at this stage, including the public consultation process and environmental permitting, as virtually no one had heard of the survey before the petition was launched. 

The company and the DMRE had not yet responded to emailed requests for comment as we went to press. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment said it would respond “accordingly in due course”.  

Gilbert Martin, founder and CEO of the civil society movement We Are South Africans, launched the petition and told Business Maverick that his organisation would be seeking a court interdict to halt the survey. 

“We South Africans are seeking the interdict for multiple reasons. The first and main reason is the effects these seismic blasting surveys have on the marine environment as recorded in multiple peer-researched studies. 

“The second reason is that we feel there is something amiss regarding the approval of the reconnaissance permit, as is the situation with the Wild Coast and Shell, where communities were not actually consulted,” Martin said.  

Stay tuned, folks – the seismic wars are not over and the volume is bound to crank up. DM/BM/OBP

Gallery
Absa OBP

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All Comments 8

  • As an ordinary citizen of this country, trying to live a little more lightly on my country’s earth and waters, with care and deep appreciation for it’s extraordinary mystery and sensitivity, I cannot fathom how we have put leaders in place with power to make decisions affecting this mystery without wise counsel. If Shell had continued it’s operations and this Australian testing goes ahead, we would have had seismic blasting simultaneously on both our coastlines. Can we not see the devastating effects this would have before even considering giving it the go ahead? It gives me hope when we stop these appalling errors in their tracks. It is evidence that as a species, we are beginning to develop wisdom. That gives me hope.

  • The reality is that activists have to win over and over again while developers only have to win once. It’s the SA govt that sells permits to all these companies and so activists againsts the blasting and mining of our shores need to spend efforts to uphold our own environmental laws. Our Constitution and NEMA is excellent and they must be used to stop our own govt.

    Boycotting and calling Shell names does nothing but use up energy.

  • The war has begun, the prize is south Africa’s coast line and its marine life.The present goverment is trying to sell it off with little regard of how the citizens feel .Well I got news for them, south africans don’t take lightly to this, our collective resistance will become a tsunami that will push you back.Go bugger up your own countries stay the fuck out of south africa

    • A neat summary of Capitalism in action, though it does not mention the widespread ecological impact of , for example, seismic surveys and extractivism. The even bigger disaster will face us if they actually discover oil or coal or gas under the seabed. The local and global environmental consequences will be catastrophic, not to mention the socioeconomic and political fallout.

  • It would be good to know how many seismic surveys Shell and other petroleum companies do around the world every year. Is this one of their revenue streams. Do they offer services to governments or did SA government put out a tender. How much tax payers money is being spent on each survey, the citizens have a right to know.
    What is the government going to do with the results of the survey. The renewable energy movement is happening and will only increase, why is government pursuing this line instead of moving forward with the energy changes that are happening. This is the 21st Century after all, the renewable technologies are coming through thick and fast.
    Are we in for another massive ANC state capture tender fraud.

  • I am going to be a bit controversial here. While I am am not a fan of Mumble Mantashe, and I while I love the beauty of marine life, I am also wondering what huge difference a significant gas find can make. SA runs on coal (and sometimes not thanks to government) and a bit of wind and sun. Gas is the way much lesser of two evils. Gas is clean. Coal not. Imagine we have a huge gas find to replace coal to liquids and coal to steam? I want my children and grand children to live on our beautiful planet. I also want them to live.