Royal Dutch Shell Plc has been ordered by a South African court to temporarily halt an offshore seismic survey after local communities took legal action to block the project.
The groups on Tuesday were granted an interim interdict that will stand until a ruling can be made on whether further environmental authorization is required, according to the judgment by a High Court in the Eastern Cape division. The claimants argue the activity will harm local marine life and disrupt fishing, while Shell maintains the practice has been in use for decades to search for oil and gas.
“We respect the court’s decision and have paused the survey while we review the judgment,” a Shell spokesman said. “If viable resources were to be found offshore, this could significantly contribute to the country’s energy security.”
The ruling follows a public outcry against Shell’s project, which is taking place along South Africa’s Wild Coast, a remote stretch of eastern shoreline where whales are frequently spotted. Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has defended the activity, citing a dozen seismic surveys conducted in the past five years. He is also a respondent in the case.
Local groups in the Wild Coast are concerned that they were not properly consulted and of the impact the survey will have on the climate, communities and marine life, Judge Gerald Bloem wrote, adding that Shell’s community notification was flawed.
The decision comes after a separate legal attempt brought by groups including Greenpeace failed to stop the activity earlier this month. In that case, a different judge dismissed the assertion of irreparable harm to marine life as speculative. Environmental groups are globally pushing Shell and others to halt oil and gas developments in their earliest stages or before they even start.
Mantashe and the energy giant have been ordered to pay costs of the application for the interim interdict.
No date has been set for a decision on whether authorization will be required under the National Environmental Management Act. Shell has said it already has the appropriate permission to conduct the survey.