June 13, 2024
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South African Court Allows Shell to Resume Offshore Exploration with Conditions

A South African appeals court has overturned a previous ruling that halted Shell’s offshore exploration along the Wild Coast, giving oil companies another chance at public consultation, according to court documents revealed on Monday.

The earlier ruling was based on inadequate public consultation, a critical factor that led a lower court to rule against Shell and other oil companies, Impact Africa and BG International. However, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has now provided a reprieve for these companies, allowing exploration along South Africa’s environmentally sensitive east coast to continue.

The case, which has been ongoing for years, saw its latest development when the SCA heard arguments in May from lawyers representing affected communities and environmental groups, including Greenpeace.

These groups defended the Makhanda High Court’s previous decision, which nullified an exploration right granted to Impact Africa and Shell in 2014.

The oil companies and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy had appealed this decision, arguing that the lower court had made errors, particularly in considering climate change and heritage rights.

On Monday, the SCA dismissed the appeal but recognized the exploration right and its renewals in 2017 and 2021. Shell and Impact Africa have yet to comment on this decision.

“In the circumstances … considerations of justice, equity and the principles of finality and certainty dictate that the harshness of the exploration right being set aside, can and should be ameliorated,” stated the judgement.

The court ordered an additional public participation process to address the identified defects in the initial consultation process. This process will occur before a third and final renewal application by the oil companies.

Environmental lawyer Ricky Stone commented, “If the right is renewed, then we’re back to square one.” He added that they are planning to appeal the SCA’s order to South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court.

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