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Bhisho gives green light to Shell blasting

Project has potential to boost province’s economy, executive says after discussion with Shell officials

The provincial government views Shell’s project as critical in terms of the province’s economic development prospects.
The provincial government views Shell’s project as critical in terms of the province’s economic development prospects.
Image: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD

Amid growing protests and court actions against Shell’s seismic blasting survey off the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast, the Eastern Cape government has thrown its weight behind the project, saying it would economically benefit locals.

The provincial government views Shell’s project as critical in terms of the province’s economic development prospects.

Projects like this, the provincial government said, could see a potential shift from the Eastern Cape being a labour-sending province to one that created economic opportunities for its citizens.

These sentiments were expressed after top provincial politicians, including premier Oscar Mabuyane and his MECs, met Shell representatives virtually on Tuesday.

The Shell delegation was led by the company’s SA chair, Hloniphizwe Mtolo, accompanied by officials from the department of mineral resources and energy, as well as the Petroleum Agency of SA. 

The company committed itself to fully implementing all the necessary mitigation measures to ensure that it avoided a potential impact on the marine environment.

During the meeting with the executive, provincial government spokesperson Khuselwa Rantjie said the oil giant had also undertaken to work outside the sensitive environmental window period for migrating whales in SA.

While giving the green light to the project, which has attracted widespread condemnation from people across the country and beyond, the provincial executive called on Shell to strengthen social facilitation, and commit itself to stop at nothing to ensure that the environment, and the social rights of the people of the Eastern Cape, were protected.

Rantjie said Shell had briefed the executive on Tuesday on the seismic survey being done along the Wild Coast.

“The purpose of the survey according to Shell is to study the existence of commercially viable gas deposits below the sea.

“In the briefing, the company indicated that the study uses compressed air, to image layers of rocks below the sea floor to determine the potential presence of naturally occurring hydrocarbons, which is oil and gas.

“The provincial cabinet was reassured that an environmental study had been independently conducted in line with regulatory requirements, and a legal permit obtained to carry out the activity. 

“Shell committed to fully implement all the mitigation measures, to ensure that it avoids potential impact to the marine environment.

“It is also working outside of the sensitive environmental window period for migrating whales in SA,”  Rantjie said.

Shell also committed to taking the sceptical Eastern Cape community along with it during the survey.

Mtolo told the executive: “We would make ourselves available for requests for engagement with all interested parties in the province, as well as support community engagements.

“This will be in addition to providing regular updates on the survey.”

Earlier in December, Shell was free to proceed with its seismic survey after four environmental and human rights organisations lost a legal bid to interdict it from doing so.

In January, the groups will seek to review and set aside the original decision and subsequent renewal.

In the meantime, they had hoped to stop Shell, via that urgent interdict, from proceeding with its seismic survey until the review application could be considered.

However, that hope was dashed on December 3 when the interdict was denied.

In the wake of that judgment, another urgent interdict was launched by another group. 

Judgment in the matter, heard on Friday, was reserved. 

Mabuyane said their invitation to meet Shell had been aimed at providing an opportunity for the provincial government to better understand the seismic survey. 

“We will support development that carefully traverses the balance between the environment, sustainability, as well as governance issues,” he said.

“In summary, we are advocating for development that will take into consideration these issues, as well as the needs of the community.”

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