new hearing Friday


Environmentalists and community groups have assembled an army of international and local marine science experts in their legal battle to stop Shell’s five-month seismic survey – part of its oil and gas exploration campaign – offshore from the eastern coast of Cape Town.

The urgent case has been set for hearing before the Makhanda District Court on Friday, December 17.

Shell is opposing the request but has yet to file its documents, which are also expected to include expert reports and affidavits.

Earlier this month, a similar request for a ban was dismissed with costs.

Makhanda High Court Acting Judge Avinash Govindjee ruled that the submissions regarding the investigation’s negative impact on the environment and marine life were “speculative at best” and that the plaintiffs did not proved that they had a reasonable fear of irreparable harm.

In the upcoming court challenge, Reinford Sinegugu Zukulu, director of Sustaining the Wild Coast, and representatives of the wild coast communities have asked the court to allow them to admit the affidavits of several experts who they say prove that the barrage of air cannons, “which would be thrown into the sea every ten seconds for five months, louder than a jet plane on take-off,” “would likely cause significant damage to marine animals.”

Most of the experts cited in the articles agree that Shell’s 2013 Environmental Management Program (EMPr), which detailed the seismic survey and proposed mitigation measures, was completely outdated.

U.S.-based Dr. Douglas Nowacek, an expert in behavioral and acoustic ecology of marine mammals, states in his affidavit that evidence collected since 2013 shows that exposure to unwanted sounds causes behavioral and physiological damage to marine mammals, including “chronic stress” of particular concern to marine mammals. endangered populations of whales off the wild coast.

“The noise will be felt by cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) over large areas of the ocean. It can induce a physiological response to stress, disrupting essential biological behaviors such as vocalization, foraging and masking of acoustic communication, including communication between dams and calves, ”he said.

“While the EMP found that the impacts ranged from negligible to low, these results are now contradicted by recent scientific literature on impacts on species such as zooplankton, endangered African penguins and beaked whales. acoustically sensitive. “

He said the proposed mitigation measures would be ineffective.

Marine scientists Drs Jean Harris, Jennifer Olbers and Kendyl Wright, in their submission, concluded that there would most likely be significant direct damage to individual animals and endangered species.

Lynton Burger founded and was Managing Director until 2004 of Environmental Resource Management Southern Africa, the company that prepared the 2013 EMPr. He alleges that the people who prepared the report appeared to lack professional marine science training or in a marine environment.

“The 2013 report is out of date. It is not the best industry practice for consultants to stick with such a former EMPr… the mitigation measures are inadequate as they focus on potentially outdated impacts, ”he said. .

Public consultation with interested and affected parties, which was already limited because a full environmental impact assessment was not conducted, was also outdated, Burger said.

Burger says the mitigation measures proposed by Shell were inadequate as they depended heavily on so-called independent on-board observers, “that is, junior-level observers”, whose ability to detect cetaceans would be reported. severely limited to fleeting appearances from the surface. He says there is no mitigation plan overnight.

More importantly, he says, the full impact on plankton, the building blocks of ocean ecosystems, cannot be monitored or mitigated by on-board observers.

David Russell, a Namibia-based fisheries consultant, said he had followed Shell’s seismic studies for many years.

He said during a seismic survey off the Namibian seas, which began in 2012, there was a “sudden drop in catches” which had a devastating economic impact on the albacore tuna industry. .

He said Shell should communicate with small-scale fishermen at sea whose livelihoods could be significantly affected if the fish leave due to noise from seismic surveys.

Dr Alexander Claus Winkler, an expert in coastal fisheries, said updated literature, technological advancements and growing global concern about the subtle indirect effects of noise pollution on marine ecosystems have revealed serious gaps in the EMP.

The two legal bases for the ban request are that there was a lack of meaningful consultation in the process, and that Shell had obtained its permit under the Mineral and Petroleum Resource Act and had no authorization. environment under more stringent National Environment Management. Act. DM

First published by GroundUp.



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