The next round of South Africa’s “seismic wars” pitting activists, communities and conservationists against the oil industry and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) seems set to get under way.
Australian-based Searcher Seismic is set to commence a seismic survey in Western Cape waters from the middle of this month, according to a “mariners’ notice” it has put out and other information provided on its website.
“As per Searcher’s commitments to stakeholder consultation and engagement, under our Environmental Management Plan, for the Proposed Speculative 2D and 3D Marine Seismic Survey off the west and southwest coasts of South Africa, (Orange Basin 2D/3D MSS), we wish to ensure that users of the sea are aware of the survey, associated navigational safety and the mechanism to follow for raising concerns,” the notice says.
“The survey vessel M/V BGP Pioneer shall commence 2D acquisition no earlier than 15th January 2022.”
On its website, the company says: “Searcher has released a new multiclient 2D and 3D seismic rectification project Offshore South Africa, in collaboration with the Petroleum Agency of South Africa.”
Seismic surveys have become a flashpoint in South Africa in the wake of a campaign against Shell’s Wild Coast exploration activities, which culminated in a late December interdict halting the process which was spearheaded by the Legal Resources Centre and Richard Spoor Attorneys.
Environmental activists maintain that the surveys are lethal for marine life, not least because of jarring and loud discharges, while the industry maintains that they are environmentally sound. South Africa’s coast remains relatively unexplored in terms of hydrocarbon potential, but the global tide of public opinion is turning against fossil fuel use because of its links to the climate crisis.
So, the stage is being set for further skirmishes, as Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has made it clear that he is keenly in favour of developing South Africa’s hydrocarbon industry.
A number of aspects remain murky at this stage, including the public consultation process and environmental permitting, as virtually no one had heard of the survey before the petition was launched.
The company and the DMRE had not yet responded to emailed requests for comment as we went to press. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment said it would respond “accordingly in due course”.
Gilbert Martin, founder and CEO of the civil society movement We Are South Africans, launched the petition and told Business Maverick that his organisation would be seeking a court interdict to halt the survey.
“We South Africans are seeking the interdict for multiple reasons. The first and main reason is the effects these seismic blasting surveys have on the marine environment as recorded in multiple peer-researched studies.
“The second reason is that we feel there is something amiss regarding the approval of the reconnaissance permit, as is the situation with the Wild Coast and Shell, where communities were not actually consulted,” Martin said.
Stay tuned, folks – the seismic wars are not over and the volume is bound to crank up. DM/BM/OBP
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