Civil society protests oil and gas projects ahead of Shell court battle

Civil society groups are holding demonstrations to protest oil and gas exploration.

Civil society groups are holding demonstrations to protest oil and gas exploration. Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images

  • This week, Shell will be in court to defend its proposed seismic survey off the Wild Coast.
  • Civil society groups are protesting against offshore oil and gas exploration, ahead of the hearing.
  • The Makhanda High Court last year had temporarily interdicted the seismic survey.

The next round in the court battle between Wild Coast communities and oil and gas company Shell kicks off this week.

Wild Coast communities and small-scale fishers want the court to review and set aside the decision of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to grant Shell the exploration right

Ahead of the hearing, civil society groups have arranged protests to support coastal communities fighting offshore oil and gas exploration.

Shell’s annual general meeting in London, earlier this week, was disrupted  by protesting environmental activists. Shareholders were set to vote on the company’s climate proposals. It took a few hours to remove the protesters, Bloomberg reported. Ultimately, shareholders supported Shell’s climate strategy, Reuters reported.

The Makhanda High Court in December 2021 granted an interim interdict, temporarily blocking Shell’s planned seismic survey, pending this hearing, which is set to take place before a full bench in the Port Elizabeth High Court in Gqeberha. The matter will be heard over three days – from Monday to Wednesday.

The applicants include civil society organisation Sustaining the Wild Coast, non-profits Greenpeace Africa, Natural Justice and other Wild Coast residents. They are represented by the Legal Resources Centre and Richard Spoor Attorneys. The respondents include Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and Shell.

The applicants argue that the seismic survey would be unlawful as Shell does not have the required environmental authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). However, Shell has defended its Environmental Management Programme (EMPr), which was approved by Petroleum Agency SA and the DMRE as valid authorisation.

  • READ | Wild Coast communities want court to make final call to block Shell’s seismic survey
  • The applicants argue that the seismic survey will cause “significant and irreparable harm” to marine life in the area and will negatively impact the livelihoods, customary and constitutional rights of coastal communities. They contend that affected communities were not “adequately consulted” either. They have raised concerns that only consulting traditional leaders does not constitute a proper engagement with all the communities to be affected by the exploration activity.

When he granted the interim interdict in December 2021, Judge Gerald Bloem flagged Shell’s “flawed” consultation process, which rendered the exploration right “unlawful and invalid”.

In a statement, Natural Justice further indicated that considerations of climate change impacts, resulting from the exploration, were not made. Three members of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies earlier this year published a paper highlighting the long-term impact of seismic surveys on climate change. The discovery of hydrocarbons, like oil and gas, would lead to their use – contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, a driver of climate change – the paper indicated.

Apart from seeking the court’s intervention to permanently block Shell’s seismic survey, the applicants also want a declaration that an EMPr is not equivalent to environmental authorisation under the NEMA.

“A holder of an exploration right under the MPRDA (Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act) may not undertake any seismic survey if it has not been granted an environmental authorisation,” Natural Justice said.

Applicants and the public will be picketing in Gqeberha, on Monday 30 May.

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