For Immediate Release
2 December 2021
Wild Coast communities apply for interdict to stop Shell exploration
Residents from communities located along the Wild Coast have filed an application for an urgent interdict against Shell in the Makhanda High Court today to stop the petroleum company from initiating seismic survey operations for the exploration of hydrocarbon reserves in the Transkei and Algoa areas off the coast of the Eastern Cape. They ask the court to halt these operations pending the outcome of their challenge of Shell’s assertion that they are legally entitled to commence with the operations.
Small-scale fishers from the Amadiba, Cwebe, Hobeni, Port Saint Johns and Kei Mouth communities say that Shell is not entitled to commence the surveys without getting an environmental authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). They argue that Shell’s meagre Environmental Management Programme under the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) is plainly insufficient.
The fishing communities say that Shell’s 2013 Management Programme is embarrassingly inadequate in its recognition of the existence of these communities, their cultural connection to the ocean and their socio-economic reliance on the marine resource. This is particularly brazen, they say, given the communities’ decades-long struggles to get recognition for their constitutionally protected rights to their resources.
Indeed, the Management Programme indicates that Shell consulted with stakeholders in the commercial and recreational fishing sectors but ignored the small-scale fishing communities who are the custodians of the resources Shell seeks to explore. Their only attempt to engage with the traditional communities along the coast was to engage with ‘traditional monarchs’, an approach the applicants say is reminiscent of the colonial and apartheid powers.
The applicant community members all heard of Shell’s plans in the last three weeks as petitions and other information started circulating on social media.
The applicants also point to the International Energy Association’s recent report recommending the eschewal of investment in any new oil and gas projects as a way to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. They emphasise that Shell’s surveys are part of an attempt to drill for oil and gas under our seas.
Two leading marine scientists, Drs Simon Elwin and Tess Gridley, filed a report with the court as part of the application. In the report, they point to the significant knowledge gaps regarding the impact of seismic surveys on marine life. Further, they highlight numerous studies published since Shell’s Environmental Management Programme was developed in 2013 that better explain the harm that will result from the seismic surveys, and show why, in this context, there can be no reliance on a study conducted eight years ago. Dr Jackie Sunde also filed a report detailing the central role the ocean plays in the cultural identity and customary law systems of communities along that coast.
The communities are joined by two civil society organisations working in the area, Sustaining the Wild Coast and All Rise Attorneys for Climate and the Environment. They are jointly represented by the Legal Resources Centre and Richard Spoor Attorneys.
Issued by the Legal Resources Centre
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