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West Coast communities set for court battle over new seismic survey

Environmental groups and concerned citizens previously protested against a very similar seismic survey off South Africa’s Wild Coast by Shell and succeeded. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Environmental groups and concerned citizens previously protested against a very similar seismic survey off South Africa’s Wild Coast by Shell and succeeded. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 18, 2022

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Cape Town - In their battle to stop the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and Searcher Seismic from carrying out an exploratory seismic survey on the Western Cape coast, affected small-scale fishing communities and groups tabled a letter of demand to halt the survey.

However, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr legal services (representing Searcher Geodata UK) said Searcher Seismic would not suspend commencement of the seismic survey and were in possession of all the required regulatory approvals to proceed.

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Now the West Coast communities and other concerned groups have sought legal guidance from the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and are seeking an urgent interdict to stop the seismic survey, as was previously done with Shell’s seismic survey.

Masifundise Development Trust said a number of challenges had been highlighted by communities regarding the permit granted to Searcher, in particular that it had failed to fulfil the necessary public participation and community consultative processes required for the Reconnaissance Permit and the commencement of the survey.

“In the absence of a valid environmental authorisation and permit, Searcher’s activities and operations pursuant to the permit are unlawful.” LRC attorney Wilmien Wicomb said.

Langebaan community member Solene Smith said: “We don’t want oil and gas exploration of any kind in our fishing communities. The damage that could occur from these surveys could be irreparable and devastating to us and our livelihoods. Development on our coasts cannot happen without the inclusion of the local communities that will be affected.”

Gilbert Martin, the founder of We Are South Africans, one of the involved groups, urged the government to listen to its citizens and called for the establishment of a South African public oversight committee.

The DMRE said at the time of their application there was no legal requirement for environmental authorisation for a Reconnaissance Permit application, “thus the Petroleum Agency, in its duty of care, asked Searcher to provide an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) prepared by an independent practitioner – which they found to be sufficient”.

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In response to the allegations that inadequate public participation was conducted, the department said it was the agency’s view that the public participation process carried out was acceptable.

[email protected]

Cape Argus

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