Shell losing millions as South Africa ditches dirty energy

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  • Shell says they will lose millions of dollars spent on preparing for the project and the judgement is in contractual breach of an exploration right obtained in 2013.
  • The South African government was in support of the oil and gas exploration project, despite being ranked among the biggest carbon emitters in the world. 
  • Protests against Shell exploration have gained 85,000 signatures with over 35 fuel stations dumping the company. 

A South African court has halted seismic testing for oil and gas by the oil giant, Shell, in the Wild Coast along the country’s eastern coastline.

What is seismic testing and how is it done? 

Seismic testing is the acoustic sound imaging of the floor bed to determine whether there are hydrocarbons on the seafloor. Shock waves are fired from an airgun with a very powerful sound that blasts down towards the seabed. The sound that bounces back reveals whether there are any hydrocarbons, such as oil and gas, locked on the seabed.

The court’s decision has been highly praised by environmentalists who fear that acoustic sound exploration will disrupt the marine ecosystem.

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Shell Country Chair, Hloniphizwe Mtolo, issued a report saying that they will pause operations as they review the judgement made by the Makhanda High Court judge, Gerald Bloem.

The scenic West Coast in South Africa. [Photo/The Conversation]
Shell says they will lose millions of dollars spent on preparing for the project and the judgement is in contractual breach of an exploration right obtained in 2013.

The South African energy ministry was in full favour of the operations by Shell and Shearwater Geoservices. The Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe, has criticized the critics of the project, saying that it was an attempt to deprive Africa of its energy resource investments.

“Mining exploration is a short-term endeavour, whereas our livelihoods are long-term. We have relied on the sea for centuries and we are very happy that the judge has seen that our livelihoods cannot be sacrificed at the expense of short-term profits, “said Nonhle Mbuthuma, Spokesperson for the Amadiba Crisis Committee.

“Our government is not happy with the court ruling. It has been prioritizing big businesses over our livelihoods, “she added.

In his ruling, Judge Bloem said that Shell had failed to prove the safety of the project against the claims made by environmental experts and the local community and that there had been a substantial flaw in the consultation process with the locals in the Wild Coast.

Protests against Shell exploration have gained 85,000 signatures with over 35 fuel stations dumping the company.

The local communities expressed their disappointment, saying that their customary rights to the land where they fished and did their religious activities had not been respected. Shell quietly announced the commencement of the seismic survey on November 4, 2021.

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The 155-mile stretch of the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape Province has been widely known for its natural beauty and marine life.

Campaigners and protesters argued that the exploration would cause significant and irreversible harm to marine life.

The court had earlier dismissed the first application for an interim interdict from the communities, saying that they had not presented before the court substantial evidence to show that there was environmental harm caused by the seismic survey. The court at that time had given Shell the green light to go ahead with the project.

Shell had begun their survey of the 6,011 square kilometres located between Port Saint Johns and Morgan’s Bay, with exploration bound to have started by December 1st. Protests followed thereafter with placards with words like, “To Hell With Shell,” “Go Home Shell.” “You are $drunk”, “Hands Off Our Wild Coast” and “Stop Shell to Save Our Marine Life”.

A protest against Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to start seismic surveys to explore petroleum systems on South Africa’s popular Wild Coast. [Photo/REUTERS/Rogan Ward]
In the ruling last month, environmental experts stood to testify about the damage caused by seismic waves, and Shell failed to prove otherwise.

“Sea mammals communicate through sound, and the air guns will cause tissue damage, hearing loss, behavioural changes, and stress that will affect the growth and reproduction of marine life,” said Kencole, a natural scientist.

Shell boss, Ben Van Beurden, said that their facility in the Wild Coast was willing to participate in producing biofuels and hydrogen, but they needed the cash that was coming from their legacy business.

“This is a huge win for us, but the struggle is not over. The decision by the court is just an interdict, and we understand that proceedings will continue,” Katherine Robinson from National Justice told AFP news.

The oil company had earlier warned that they could possibly cancel the seismic testing operations if the court judgement went against them. They warned that the country stood at risk of losing millions of dollars worth of extraction from the project.

The South African government was in support of the oil and gas exploration project, despite being ranked among the biggest carbon emitters in the world.

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I am a journalist who is an enthusiastic tech, business and investment news writer from across Africa. There is always something good happening in Africa but most gets lost in the stereotypes. I tell the stories that matter to the Africans for Africa. Have a tip? You can contact me at j.kangethe@theexchange.africa

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