South African Court Halts Shell’s Oil Exploration In Whale Breeding Grounds

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A South African court has stopped Shell’s seismic testing for oil and gas along the nation’s eastern coastline, the BBC has reported, adding that this is pending a final ruling. Now This News also shared that the Wild Coast is also an area where whales breed.

The article noted that environmentalists are worried that Shell, which said that it had paused operations while reviewing the judgment, could cause harm to marine life.

Gwede Mantashe, Energy Minister for South Africa, criticized the project’s critics with wild claims that they want to deprive Africa of energy resources. Unless South Africa was going to share those resources with the rest of the countries in Africa, I think that claim is a bit of a stretch.

Judge Gerald Bloem, a High Court Judge, said that Shell’s right to explore the waters near the Wild Coast, a 155-mile stretch of coastline in Eastern Cape province, “was awarded on the basis of a substantially flawed consultation process,” in his ruling.

In yesterday’s ruling, he also said that experts testified to the damage the testing could cause and that Shell hasn’t sufficiently challenged that.

Environmentalists were worried that many sea creatures — including dolphins, seals, and whales — would be negatively affected by the seismic testing. They weren’t alone. Locals living along the shoreline were also represented in the case and they said that their customary rights to the land and fishing had not been respected.

We’ve seen similar situations like this before with big oil giants taking the land and not allowing the locals to have access to it. Here in the US, our own government violated treaties with the Anishinaabe People by literally giving their land to Enbridge to build Pipeline 3 while forcing off the Indigenous Peoples who lived and farmed that land. There are even claims that Enbridge paid local police to harass, arrest, and bully protestors.

This isn’t a new thing, and sadly, it will most likely continue no matter what country you’re in. Nonhle Mbuthuma, who welcomed the ruling, told the BBC:

 “As coastal communities, we have relied on the sea for centuries — and we are glad that the judge has recognized that our ocean livelihoods must not be sacrificed for short-term profit.”

Seismic surveys are conducted in order to map out what lies under the ocean floor. These surveys consist of firing shockwaves from an air gun towards the seabed. Imagine an incredibly loud speaker blasting pure noise into the ocean floor. The sound that comes back shows whether or not there is oil locked in the rock under the sea.

Katherin Robinson from Natural Justice, a non-governmental organization, pointed out that although this was a huge victory, the struggle isn’t yet over. She told the AFP that the decision was just the interdict. She also added that she understood that the proceedings will continue.

Shell responded that it would respect the court’s decision while reviewing the judgment.

“We respect the court’s decision and have paused the survey while we review the judgment.”

The article also noted that Shell had warned that if the case went against it, the company might cancel the entire operation and forfeit the chance to extract millions of dollars worth of oil and gas.

A Natural & Environmentally Friendlier Way Of Mapping Out What’s Under The Seafloor

Two scientists reported that they were able to use the songs of fin whales to accurately map out what was beneath the seafloor. Václav Kuna and John Nábělek were interested in the structure of the rock layers beneath the seafloor and used a network of 54 ocean-bottom seismometers in the northeast Pacific Ocean. These detected waves travel through the ground, and what they discovered is that they also pick up songs from a passing whale.

Fin whale songs can be up to 189 decibels, which is as noisy as a large ship. The scientists’ seismometers picked up the sound waves from the song of a fin whale and the echoes showed the researchers that its sound waves had passed through layers of sediment and underlying rocks. The waves revealed the structural details of the crust beneath three sites along where the whale had been singing as it swam.

Each of the sites had what scientists considered a classic ocean floor structure with layers of sediment between 1,300 to 2,150 feet thick. Below those was another layer of basalt rock around 6,000 feet thick, and beneath the basalt was a dense oceanic rock called gabbro.

The article pointed out that the new data suggested that fin-whale songs can be effective tools to study the seafloor without impacting the marine environment negatively as air guns blasted from ships do.

Featured photo by Jon Rawlinson (CC BY 2.0 license)

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Johnna Crider

Johnna owns less than one share of $TSLA currently and supports Tesla's mission. She also gardens, collects interesting minerals and can be found on TikTok

Johnna Crider has 1996 posts and counting. See all posts by Johnna Crider