A South African court has approved Shell to go ahead with a seismic shoot offshore the Wild Coast.
Various NGOs had objected to the plan, complaining that the work would have an outsized impact on local wildlife. The environmental consultants carried out the outreach campaign in 2014.
Greenpeace Africa, Natural Justice, Border Deep Sea Angling Association and Kei Mouth Ski Boat Club backed the legal challenge.
Judge Avinash Govindjee ruled this morning that Shell’s work should go ahead. The four NGOs will have to pay costs, he ordered.
The Shearwater Geosciences owned Amazon Warrior arrived in Cape Town in late November. Shell has denied that the seismic survey would have a negative impact and that such work is commonplace around the world.
The complaint did not establish a “reasonable apprehension of irreparable harm”, he said.
“There is in addition no basis to consider that the Shell mitigation strategy, emanating from a 600-page EMPR is inadequate or to gainsay that Shell will implement the promised range of measures and do so properly,” the judge said.
Airguns would only harm animals if they were in close proximity, he said. They would likely move away if it became uncomfortable.
“The issue of likelihood of harm cannot be considered on a worst case scenario basis,” Govindjee said.
Delaying Shell’s plans would see it miss the seismic window. It would “be in breach of contractual obligations”, risking millions of dollars it has spent ahead of the survey. “Weighing massive financial consequences against any potential environmental harm even at the likely lowest of levels is an invidious task,” he said.
In conclusion, Govindjee said that the applicants not shown there would be irreparable harm to the work.
The judge went on to say there was increasing global concern about the environment. Rejecting the call, he said the answer raised a number of questions about the interplay between law and science, and “judicial assessments in urgent environmental issues”.
The complaint said the seismic exploration was “prima facie unlawful” until Shell applied for, and obtained, environmental authorisation. The NGOs also complained that there had been a lack of communication with the public around the granting, and renewing, of the exploration right.
Greenpeace Africa will continue opposing Shell’s work offshore.
“We will continue to support the nation-wide resistance against Shell and pursue the legal avenue to stop Shell.
“We must do everything we can to undo the destructive colonial legacy of extractivism, until we live in a world where people and the planet come before the profits of toxic fossil fuel companies,” said Happy Khambule, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa.
Oceans Not Oil is planning to hold another protest against Shell’s plans on December 5.
Shell’s win comes as the company has backed out of involvement in the controversial Cambo development in the UK.
The Anglo-Dutch company said the economic case for Cambo was not sufficiently strong. However, environmental campaigners have hailed this as a win for the climate.
Updated with Greenpeace Africa comment as of 2:31 pm.