A protest against seismic blasting on a Wild Coast beach. Picture: ROGAN WARD/REUTERS
A protest against seismic blasting on a Wild Coast beach. Picture: ROGAN WARD/REUTERS

Shell will have to call a halt to its seismic survey along the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast after the high court in Makhanda interdicted it from proceeding.

Judge Gerald Bloem on Tuesday morning halted Shell from continuing with the survey, which kicked off on December 2.

Richard Spoor Attorneys and the Legal Resources Centre acting on behalf of the Dwesa-Cwebe, Amadiba, and Port Saint Johns communities, as well as environmental organisations, argued last week that the seismic surveying was devastating to the marine environment as well as harmful to communities’ rights and reliance on the sea for sustenance, income and cultural practices.

Judge Bloem ordered that the multinational’s exploration activities in the 6,000-sq-km area off the eastern coast of SA be stopped until a second part of the interdict is heard.

He said the survey was being conducted on the basis of a “substantially flawed consultation process”, but avoided making a ruling on whether Shell requires an environmental authorisation under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).

Welcoming the ruling Spoor said “it takes a whole lot of courage for a judge to make difficult rulings like this, and to make them as quickly as he did”.

“He really hammered on the consultation issue and that was impressive,” Spoor told Business Day following the significant judgement.

Shell warned during legal arguments that if the interim interdict were granted it might have to walk away from the entire operation, including the possibility of extracting any oil and gas found during the controversial seismic survey. It said its losses would amount to about R1bn.

Shell and mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe were ordered to pay the legal costs of the application.

Reacting to the outcomes of the proceedings, the department said it noted the interim relief granted, adding that it would continue to participate in Part B of the proceedings by filling papers in due course.

“The [department] respects the traditional and customary rights of communities and will seek to protect them while simultaneously ensuring that much needed investment, which is urgently required for our economy and energy needs, is fully supported,” the department told Business Day.

The ministry has previously lashed out at opposition to the exploration labelling it as an “apartheid and colonialism of a special kind, masqueraded as a great interest for environmental protection”.

Environmentalists have argued that the powerful shots of air fired down towards the seabed during seismic surveys to map out what lies beneath the seafloor would interfere with and possibly harm marine life.

Update: Tuesday December 28
This story has been updated with comment from the mineral resources & energy department.

With Michelle Gumede

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