Last month Shell was ordered to halt its seismic survey program on the Wild Coast. Another case involving an Australian exploration company is set to go to trial as communities along the coast struggle to survive.
The Shell case is intended to set a precedent for future exploration and extractivism cases. However, it seems the inevitable has happened sooner than expected as a group representing various civil society organizations has filed a lawsuit urgent ban against Australian geosciences company Finder geodata, which has conducted a seismic survey program along the west coast of South Africa.
The applicants had written to Searcher Geodata asking the company to end its current project. But the company’s lack of response has prompted organizations to take the matter to court in hopes the law will put an end to the potential environmental damage seismic surveys are causing to life in coastal communities.
Wilmien Wilcomb, a lawyer representing 13 of the 14 applicants, told the Daily Maverick: “Communities say the survey will not only cause irreparable damage to the sea and bird life on the west coast, but also their rights to fish for them , further eroding their livelihood and expression of their identity.”
Other defendants in the case include Mineral Resources and Energy Secretary Gwede Mantashe; Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Secretary Barbara Creecy; Petroleum Agency South Africa; and BGP Pioneer, the Panama-registered seismic survey vessel.
Gilbert Martin, founder of We are South Africans (the 14th applicant), told Daily Maverick that they hope an interdict will stop not only Searcher Geodata’s seismic survey, but also any other mining or seismic activity by one public oversight committee to oversee improperly conducted processes.
He said they submitted the interdict due to the fact that research into formulating the Environmental Management Program (EMPr) was out of date, that there had been no meaningful public participation and that the survey would harm the environment, tourism and the fishing industry.
Daily misfit previously reported that the Coastal Justice Network has addressed the fact that small fishing communities along the west coast were not consulted during the assessments to give Searcher Geodata permits to conduct the surveys.
Christian Adams, the first applicant, said in his affidavit that he wanted Mantashe and Creecy to understand what is happening to the fishing community and what issuing permits without their input has done to the industry.
Searcher Geodata emailed Daily Maverick that the company had established a comprehensive environmental management plan that meets the requirements of a Basic Editing Message according to the EIA regulation. The company said the assessment was developed with extensive consultation with local communities to protect the environment.
“Community awareness and consultation has been extensive and in full alignment with Pasa [Petroleum Agency SA] requirements,” according to the company. “Searcher would like to point out that we have a long history of effectively conducting marine seismic surveys internationally with successful environmental results. This is achieved through a rigorous environmental risk assessment combined with robust operational principles, planning and management.”
Pasa granted Searcher Geodata his allow Early November 2021. The permit grants Searcher a petroleum exploration permit allowing it to conduct the seismic surveys over various offshore blocks, the Orange Basin off the west coast and on the south coast of the Western and Northern Cape Provinces of the country.
the allow Searcher granted by the DMRE showed that it has been effective since December 6, 2021, based on environmental permits that assess potential impacts on marine fauna and flora.
This included some of the ways the company can identify actions to mitigate potential impacts, including a 30-day public review and comment period, according to the approval.
“Where will we land? Are we going to be murals that people can look at and say that there was once a thriving small-scale fishing sector, but because of the OEMP, because of the Sea Spatial Planning Bill, because Operation Phakisa, does it no longer exist?” said Adams.
Wicomb will represent the 13 parties while Richard Spoor will represent Attorney’s We are South Africans when the case goes to the Western Cape High Court. DM / OBP