Following Shell victory, South African environmentalists target Searcher project

Paul Burkhardt 1/13/2022

(Bloomberg) --Just weeks after Royal Dutch Shell Plc was forced by a court to suspend a seismic survey seeking hydrocarbons in South African waters, activists are looking to block another such program.

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 criticized the process used to consult local communities that could be affected by the survey.

“In the absence of a valid environmental authorization 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 Jan. 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. Gwede Mantashe, the country’s energy minister, 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 South Africa over the last five years.

Still, the International Energy Agency said last year 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 South Africa, 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 Jan. 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 coast of South Africa’s Eastern Cape as the parties await a final judgment. Sustaining The Wild Coast, represented by Richard Spoor Inc. Attorneys, is part of the recent case against Shell that was granted an interim interdict.

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