Shell Taps Out As Amazon Warrior Sails Away From South Africa

Shell Taps Out As Amazon Warrior Sails Away From South Africa
The Amazon Warrior vessel has left South Africa after local activists ruined Shell's plans for a seismic survey off the country.

Shell has terminated the contract for the Amazon Warrior survey vessel emphasizing the court victory of local activists over the oil major’s seismic plans along South Africa’s Wild Coast.

The owner of the vessel, Shearwater Geo, said in October 2021 that it had won a major 3D seismic exploration project in South Africa. Under the deal, the seismic firm was supposed to acquire just over 2,300 square miles of data during a four-week project. According to the most recent AIS data, Amazon Warrior is currently on its way to Las Palmas, Spain.

Shell started the survey activities in mid-December despite environmentalists and local NGOs opposing such activities and court action being filed against the supermajor’s activities. Shell at the time stated that it had consulted all relevant communities on the operations.

The oil firm faced opposition even before activities started. Protests started literally from the moment the Amazon Warrior arrived at the port in Cape Town.

Activists stated that the reason for the public protest was that Shell used a legal loophole to undertake seismic activities without an environmental impact assessment since such a thing was not required in 2013 when the authorization for the work was given. This authorization is being used to justify Shell’s actions although an environmental impact assessment was necessary for 2021.

The timing of the survey was of particular concern to the environmentalists since it was scheduled to take place during the migration season for hump-backed whales and could also endanger juvenile turtles coming down the coast in the Agulhas current.

Activists tried to stop the seismic work once in early December, but the court decided that they did not produce evidence of irreparable harm to the marine environment in the region if the work goes ahead.

However, in a second attempt, Shell was stopped in its tracks. Namely, the Grahamstown High Court in Makhanda ordered the immediate pause of the activities on December 28 stating that, based on evidence, Shell failed to consult with the communities and individuals who would be impacted by the survey.

Judge Gerald Bloem agreed that Shell had failed to carry out required local consultations and there were concerns over the impact on marine life. Shell defended the survey but said it would pause the work, while it reviewed the order. Bloem also noted the end of the license nearing but claimed that was not a sufficient reason to allow the seismic work to continue.

Shell now must quickly decide what to do as it has until May 2022 to carry out seismic work. If not, the company may lose the Algoa and Transkei licenses. The blocks are in the South Outeniqua Basin very near the Brulpadda and Luiperd discoveries drilled by TotalEnergies.

The South African Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) supported Shell’s plans in the past so some sort of extension can be expected, but the departure of the Amazon Warrior probably means the court order will not be reversed any time soon.

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