The British company Searcher has been awarded the contract for seismic surveys off the west coast of South Africa

West Coast fishing communities hold a demonstration against seismic surveys outside the Western Cape High Court.

  • Geoscientific data company Searcher has received environmental approval to conduct a seismic survey off the coast of SA.
  • Civil society group The Green Connection plans to appeal the decision.
  • This is Searcher’s second attempt at a West Coast seismic survey.
  • For news and analysis on climate change, go to News24 climate future.

Geoscientific data company Searcher, previously blocked from conducting a seismic survey off the West Coast, may be given a second chance after receiving an environmental permit from the Department of Natural Resources and Energy (DMRE).

Last year, West Coast fishing communities successfully blocked Searcher’s first attempt to conduct a poll through the courts, on the grounds that the company failed to adequately consult interested and affected parties — the small-scale fishermen.

Searcher’s Robin Sutherland later admitted there were “flaws” in the company’s previous consultation processes. The company is headquartered in the UK.

Searcher released a statement in July 2022 regarding its second poll application. This time it would be carried out further from the coast (more than 200 km) than the previous application, which was only 20 km from the coast.

Searcher urged the public to register as interested and concerned parties so that they are aware of and participate in the consultation processes that are part of the environmental permit application.

This study area lies between St. Helena Bay and Hond

This study area lies between St. Helena Bay and Hondeklip Bay off the west coast.

Delivered EIMS

The controversy surrounding seismic surveys is that they emit sound pulses into the water to map oil and gas reserves. The alleged environmental damage of these sound pulses to marine life has been advanced as an argument against seismic surveys in court cases by opponents.

In addition, concerns have been raised about the long-term effects of burning oil and gas on global warming, which is exacerbating climate change.

In a statement issued on January 6, 2023, Searcher’s environmental auditing expert, Environmental Impact Management Services, issued a statement stating that the company was granted environmental approval.

“Regarding the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations, it is announced that the above project was granted an Environmental Permit by the Ministry of Natural Resources on December 20, 2022,” the statement said.

Those wishing to appeal the decision have 20 days from the publication of the notice (January 6) to submit their applications to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. There are now less than 10 days to submit entries.

Civil society group The Green Connection will appeal. She worries that mitigation measures (or steps taken to reduce the environmental impact of the seismic survey) are insufficient. The Green Connection also raises concerns that the DMRE is ignoring the climate crisis by authorizing exploration for oil and gas.

“A much bigger concern is that the DMRE has authorized this specifically for exploring for oil and gas and appears to be ignoring the climate crisis we are facing,” The Green Connection spokeswoman Liz McDaid said in a statement.

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The Green Connection also believes that studies evaluating the environmental impact of oil and gas are flawed.

“The Green Connection does not believe there will be no harm and is not comfortable with studies that have failed to adequately assess the cumulative negative environmental impacts for oil and gas,” McDaid said.

“The Green Connection does not believe that a project can be motivated by the idea that we need additional oil and gas but then fail to consider the cumulative negative environmental impact of that oil and gas. There is no benefit in seismic survey per se – but there are risks of injury.”

This isn’t the only seismic survey contested by communities and civil society groups. Another poll scheduled for Shell off the Wild Coast was successfully blocked by a Supreme Court. This decision will now go to the Supreme Court of Appeals and could set a precedent for future cases.

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