Big court blow for Shell’s oil exploration plans — while Mantashe must pay costs

A South African court has denied Shell Plc’s bid to conduct an oceanic seismic survey along the country’s east coast.

The decisions to grant Shell the rights to explore for oil and gas didn’t follow fair procedure and the decision-maker failed to take relevant considerations into account, according to a judgment from the Eastern Cape High Court that was delivered on Thursday.

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe’s attempt last year to renew Shell’s exploration right was also set aside because “it follows that if the exploration right is wrong in law, the renewals are legally untenable,” the judge said.

Shell was first granted the exploration right in 2014, but was only due to start seismic blasting on the Wild Coast, a remote stretch of the eastern shoreline where Humpback and Southern Right whales are frequently spotted, last year.

The plans were met with resistance from coastal communities, environmentalists, civil society groups and large petitions, with some people also choosing to boycott the use of Shell gas stations.

The High Court last year temporarily stopped the seismic survey, which involves firing air-guns and consistently sending loud compressed air streams or focused sonic waves toward the ocean floor.

The concerns that were raised included that communities hadn’t been properly consulted, environmental impact assessments were out of date with new laws and marine life could be harmed.

“We respect the court’s decision and are reviewing the judgment to determine our next steps regarding the Wild Coast block,” a Shell spokesman said in an emailed statement. “We remain committed to South Africa and our role in the just energy transition.”

The area that Shell was due to explore sustains rural fishing communities and is also the site of the annual so-called sardine run, which has been described as the greatest shoal on earth.

Millions of the small, silvery fish migrate north, attracting predators such as dolphins, whales, sharks and gannets in great numbers. The spectacle is also a boon for tourism.

The Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Impact Africa and BG International were ordered to pay the costs of the court application.

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Big court blow for Shell’s oil exploration plans — while Mantashe must pay costs