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Total Brulpadda prospect, located in the Outeniqua Basin, 175km off the south coast of SA. Picture: SUPPLIED
Total Brulpadda prospect, located in the Outeniqua Basin, 175km off the south coast of SA. Picture: SUPPLIED

Just weeks after Royal Dutch Shell was forced by a court to suspend a seismic survey seeking hydrocarbons in SA waters, activists are looking to block another such programme.

The groups, which include fishing communities, have warned Searcher Seismic, a company planning to collect data off the west coast of the country, not to participate in the activity that they say is harmful to marine life such as whales and fish. They’ve also criticised the process used to consult local communities that could be affected by the survey. 

“In the absence of a valid environmental authorisation and permit, Searcher’s activities and operations pursuant to the permit are unlawful,” the Legal Resources Centre wrote in a letter, seen by Bloomberg, to the company dated January 13. “Our clients intend to institute the necessary legal proceedings to challenge the decision to grant the permit.”

In addition to concern over the environment, opposition to the use of fossil fuels has grown in the country that relies on coal for most of its power. Energy minister Gwede Mantashe is pushing to develop the country’s natural gas reserves as pressure grows to reduce emissions. He has pointed out that a dozen seismic surveys have been carried out in SA over the past five years. 

Still, the International Energy Agency said in 2021 that no new oil and gas fields can be tapped if the world is to meet a target of so-called net zero emission by 2050.

Searcher’s permit to do the work was granted in May and the company is in compliance with requirements, it said in an emailed response to questions. It didn’t address questions regarding opposition to the survey. 

The M/V BGP Pioneer survey vessel is set to do Searcher’s work off the west and southwest coasts of SA, according to a notice cited by the group We Are South Africans, which is opposed to the activity. The ship was off the coast of Namibia on January 12 and headed to Cape Town, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. Searcher didn’t respond to questions about whether they hired the vessel. 

Shell ended its contract with a ship it hired to conduct an earlier survey off the Eastern Cape coast  as the parties await a final judgment. Sustaining the Wild Coast, represented by Richard Spoor Attorneys, is part of the recent case against Shell that was granted an interim interdict. 

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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