A letter of demand has made its way to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), in an attempt to stop the upcoming 2D and 3D seismic survey due to start along the west coast on Saturday.
The letter, addressed to the company carrying out the survey, Australia-based Searcher Seismic, DMRE minister Gwede Mantashe, DMRE director-general Thabo Mokoena, Petroleum Agency of South Africa (Pasa) and Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) minister Barbara Creecy, was sent out by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) on Thursday.
News broke of the survey earlier this month, after a petition was shared by Vuma Earth. According to the petition, Pasa granted a Reconnaissance Permit to Searcher Seismic on 9 November 2021.
Civil society movement We Are South Africans (Wasa) is leading the charge in terms of an interdict being brought against Searcher Seismic.
There are at least 17 right holders included in the reconnaissance permit application area boundary.
2D and 3D seismic surveys will run from the Namibian border, past Cape Town and as far as Cape Agulhas.
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Wasa and the LRC are demanding a response to the letter of demand by 6pm on Friday.
Should Searcher Seismic fail or refuse, the LRC vowed to bring an urgent interdict in the High Court to “interdict Searcher from conducting any activities pursuant to and in terms of the unlawful permit.”
One of the vessels reported to be carrying out the surveys is the M/V BGP Pioneer, which is said to be en route to the port of Cape Town.
Permit proceedings ‘unlawful’, say activists
LRC attorney Wilmien Wicomb said in the letter of demand that Searcher Seismic gave notice of the survey on their website on 15 December 2021, and that the reconnaissance permit granted by the DMRE was effective from 6 December 2021.
However, Wicomb said the permit has not been provided to them, in light of the upcoming interdict.
She also pointed out it was not known who the notice, dated 15 December 2021, was sent to, nor had any publication notification been provided.
In addition, the notice was published a day before a public holiday, which meant it would have gone “unnoticed by most interested and affected persons”.
It is argued that Seismic Searcher did not properly consult with interested and affected parties before it applied for their environmental authorisation, a prerequisite for a reconnaissance permit, and according to Wicomb, has still failed to do so.
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A successful urgent interdict brought against Shell by Sustaining the Wild Coast, the Amadiba Crisis Committee and others on 28 December 2021 cost the petroleum giant their 3D seismic survey due to the lack of meaningful consultation with affected communities in the Eastern Cape.
“In the absence of a valid environmental authorisation and permit, Searcher’s activities and operations pursuant to the permit are unlawful.
“Our clients intent to institute the necessary legal proceedings to challenge the decision to grant the permit.”
Survey ‘met requirements’
DMRE media relations and content manager Ernest Mulibana told The Citizen the draft environment management programme (EMP) was published for a 30-day review and comment period from 10 August to 9 September 2021, and was published on the SLR Consulting website.
Three local papers also ran the draft EMP, with a “virtual focus meeting” held on 26 August 2021, Mulibana said.
According to the department, Searcher Seismic’s application met the requirements of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Act.
“The Agency and the department are therefore obliged to process and finalise applications received in terms of the Act (whether it be a refusal or a granting).
Potential environmental destruction
Wasa founder Gilbert Martin explained to The Citizen the reason for their interdict is the effects the surveys will have on the marine environment, “as recorded in multiple peer-researched studies”.
“There [are] ecological and environmental consequences on multiple endangered marine animals, such as the Southern Right Whale and African Penguin, and we cannot understand how the Environmental Assessment was considered.”
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Martin warned the explorations would affect the Western Cape’s tourism and fishing industries in “catastrophic” fashion.
Reports of dead fish began to emerge during the Wild Coast survey. A dead dolphin washed up in Chintsha, about 20kg of Black Steenbras was found on Tshani beach with “protruding nostrils”, a Twitter user said.
But despite warning signs, the DMRE told The Citizen the “potential impacts of the proposed survey” would range from “insignificant to low significance with mitigation”.
The department conceded the survey could however cause “physiological injury or mortality, behavioural avoidance, impact on reproductive success or spawning in fish, and collision including entanglement of turtles and impact of seismic surveys on the fishing industry due to the mandatory safety zone around the vessel.”