What the hell, shell!

Much has been made about the seismic survey by the Royal Dutch Shell, known by most of us simply as shell.

In December 2021, Shell decided, in spite of strong opposition by a number of environmental groups, and communicates holding customary rights, including fishing rights, to move ahead with seismic testing exploring for hydrocarbons off the Wild Coast. An area known to be a breeding ground for humpback whales.

In a time when the world is trying to move away from fossil fuels, giants like Shell appear to be focused on increasing profits at what potentially could be irreversible damage to the environment.

What is seismic surveying and why is it so bad?

Seismic surveys are used mining companies to identify and estimate the size of offshore oil and gas reserves.
A ship towing multiple air gun arrays which emit thousands of high-decibel explosive impulses to map the seafloor.
Based on the return time of the reflected or refracted impulses the underlying structure of the ocean floor is mapped in 3D.

Because water is highly efficient at carrying sound waves, sound travels extremely efficiently in seawater, effecting marine mammals and many fish and invertebrates which depend on sound to find mates, food, avoid predators, navigate and communicate.

These blasts will be every 10 seconds, 24/7 for a period of 5 months.
Comparisons have been made alleging the sound of the blasts being equivalent to that of a Space shuttle launch or a 747 Taking off.
Imagine as a human being subjected to an explosion of that magnitude…every 10 seconds…24 hours a day…for 5 months.

The South African Association for Marine Biological Research  says that “  “internationally, seismic surveys have been demonstrated to have negative impacts on a range of marine organisms, from smaller creatures which live in sediments or as plankton, to larger animals such as fishes and marine mammals. Marine mammals, in particular, appear to be the most impacted by seismic surveys because of their reliance on sound for communication, to find food and to navigate.
Research has shown that although the impact of seismic surveying on fish populations themselves are localized, they may have serious consequences for the long-term health of fisheries with different fisheries being impacted in different ways. Decreases in the overall catch were observed in some areas according”

Shell are no strangers to controversy.

On 29 January 2021 a Dutch court ruled that Shell was responsible for multiple oil leaks in Nigeria.
Shell’s advertising regarding it’s renewable energy business has been described by some environmental lobbies as a “greenwash.
According to the CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017, when taking into account its scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions (emissions cause by public and other companies using it’s products), Shell was the ninth-largest corporate producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the period 1988-2015.

Whilst many argue that the project will create jobs in an impoverished area, the benefits of such projects are short lived.

Facing ever growing concerns about Climate change, and the irreparable affect environmental damage will have on both the wildlife and the human populace, the case for short term benefit is a weak and flawed one.

On the 28th December 2021, the High Court in Grahamstown granted an interdict against Shell brought by communities affected by the blasting,

Judge Gerald Bloem said that Shell was under a duty to meaningfully consult with the communities and individuals who would be impacted by the seismic survey, and that based on the evidence provided, Shell failed to do so in the case of the applicant communities who hold customary rights, including fishing rights.
They also hold a special spiritual and cultural connection to the ocean.
It was thus crucial for Shell to consult these communities and understand how the survey may impact upon them. They did not.
The judge found that the exploration right, which was awarded on the basis of a substantially flawed consultation process is thus unlawful and invalid.
The applicants’ right to meaningful consultation constitutes a prima facie right which deserves to be protected by way of an interim interdict.

Because Minister Gwede Mantashe and Shell opposed the application, the Minister and Shell were accordingly ordered to pay the applicants’ costs.

A court will now need to determine whether or not Shell requires an environmental authorization obtained under the National Environmental Management Act, when part B of the application is dealt with at a date yet to be determined.

The fight is certainly not over, and it is reported that while the focus has been on Shell, under cover of the furore, French multinational CGG has quietly applied to explore the area from Port Elizabeth to Plettenberg Bay and, according to its proposal document, it will use the same method of gathering data – firing batteries of air cannon continuously into the water.

Corporate Greed, like Hydra, has many heads.