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South Africa court to rule on Shell offshore oil exploration

Ocean Rebels, an Extinction Rebellion Cape Town performance group, protest against seismic surveys off the South African coastline at Muizenberg beach...

Ocean Rebels, an Extinction Rebellion Cape Town performance group, protest against seismic surveys off the South African coastline at Muizenberg beach...

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African court is to rule on efforts to stop British oil giant Shell from conducting any further seismic surveys in the country’s Indian Ocean waters to explore for offshore oil and gas deposits.

Environmental and community groups in South Africa's Eastern Cape province won an urgent interdict to stop the surveys in December last year and are now asking the court to permanently halt the operations.

This week lawyers representing the Xolobeni community in the Eastern Cape argued that they were not properly consulted by Shell and the government before permission was granted to conduct the survey. Environmental groups Sustaining the Wild Coast and Greenpeace Africa are also part of the lawsuit.

Seismic testing is the blasting of sound waves into the sea to determine the size of oil and gas deposits beneath the ocean floor. Environmental groups in South Africa, particularly in the Cape Town area, have demonstrated against the seismic surveys.

Experts testified that seismic surveys could harm animals in the ocean, including whales and dolphins, contrary to Shell’s submission that the surveys were not harmful to marine life.

Shell conceded that its seismic surveys would not economically benefit the Xolobeni community.

“Why should we endanger these animals in circumstances where we have been told by Shell that there will be no economic spinoffs during the survey itself?" advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, representing the Xolobeni community, told the court.

Shell failed to conduct proper consultations with the community as required by law, said Ngcukaitobi.

“There is no evidence that the views of the community were taken into account, as they should have," he said. The original decision to allow the surveys was “unreasonable,” said Ngcukaitobi.

The Xolobeni community regards the ocean as sacred and is part of their traditional rituals to communicate with their ancestors, he said. The seismic testing would interfere with their culture, he said.

Shell and government lawyers argued in court that seismic surveys have been conducted for many years and no harm had been recorded.

They also argued that the government had taken all factors into account when initially granting Shell approval to conduct the surveys.

The Eastern Cape High Court will consider the arguments before ruling on whether Shell should be allowed to continue the surveys or if they should be completely halted.