Industry: Scientists' warnings about seismic blasting based on 'distortions'

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Concerned citizens objected to Shell's planned seismic off the Wild Coast by means of protests and petitions.
Concerned citizens objected to Shell's planned seismic off the Wild Coast by means of protests and petitions.
Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • Industry players claim an advisory by a group of scientists about seismic surveys is based on "distortions and misinformation."
  • The EnerGeo Alliance and Africa Energy Chamber says there is no scientific evidence to suggest seismic surveys have " biologically significant negative" impacts on marine life.
  • Earlier this month the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies called for government to strengthen and improve legislation to protect the marine environment.

Industry players claim an advisory by a group of scientists about deep sea seismic surveys is based on "distortions and misinformation."

The EnerGeo Alliance, an association of the geoscience industry - which includes offshore and onshore survey operators, data providers and energy companies - and the Africa Energy Chamber on Tuesday issued a written response to an advisory issued by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) earlier this month, about seismic surveys.

In its advisory, SAGE - which is part of the Academy of Science of South Africa - warned that seismic surveys pose a real threat to marine life. The advisory particularly addresses the proposed seismic survey off the Wild Coast, in which Shell is involved. The scientists recommended government work to improve legislation meant to protect the marine environment, especially when it comes to exploration activities like seismic surveys.

Notably, they suggest that no seismic surveys be conducted in South Africa without an Environmental Impact Assessment report. Such reports should also be drafted by experts specifically in the area of marine science.

The potential harm seismic surveys  - which involve airguns sending pulses of sound into water in order to map out the seabed for resources like oil and gas - cause to the environment has contributed to growing opposition by civil society.

Recently the Makhanda High Court granted an interim interdict for Shell's seismic survey, off the Wild Coast. Judge Gerald Bloem said the evidence presented showed "there is real threat that the marine life would be irreparably harmed by the seismic survey". He also slammed the consultation process with interested and affected parties and labelled it as being "flawed".

Another seismic survey, this time by an Australian geoscience data company, that is being conducted off the West Coast is being legally challenged by civil society organisations and West Coast communities.

The applicants have raised concerns about the potential environmental harm as well as its impact on the rights of small-scale fishing communities.

However, Nikki Martin, president of the EnerGEO Alliance, highlighted in a statement that there is no scientific evidence that shows seismic surveying has "biologically significant negative" impacts on marine life. Martin noted that seismic surveys have been in use for 100 years and have for the past 50 years been extensively used globally.

Regarding SAGE's advisory, Martin said the advisory contained "distortions and misinformation".

"By opposing seismic surveys, SAGE has now aligned itself against South Africa's pathway out of energy poverty, shutting out the one industry that accelerates the energy evolution [transition] and supports the country’s net zero emissions goal," Martin added.

In a letter to the Academy of Science of South Africa and SAGE, EnerGEO and the Africa Energy Chamber express their "serious concerns" about the "inaccuracies" contained in the advisory. "… [T]he recommendations are misguided and based on inaccurate interpretations of the best available scientific information and statutory and regulatory requirements for exploration activities in South Africa," the letter read.

The letter emphasises that there is no evidence of harm to marine life from seismic surveys. "There is no relevant evidence to suggest that irreparable harm will be caused by seismic survey activities in South Africa or elsewhere," it reads.

Martin explained that data produced by the geoscience industry is not only used for petroleum and natural gas. The industry also provides scientific evidence, data and analysis linked to alternative energies and low-carbon solutions.

EnerGeo said it would like a "'direct dialogue" with SAGE on the matter, for the latter to be better informed.

In a written response to Fin24, SAGE director Prof. Jerome Singh said that the group's sub-committee is yet to convene to discuss EnerGeo's letter. "In the interim, the position of SAGE on the proposed Eastern Cape [Wild Coast] seismic survey remains unchanged," said Singh.

Recently, Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI) - a partner of Shell - also defended seismic surveys. HCI is invested in Impact Oil and Gas, and Shell owns a 50% stake, Bloomberg reported.

In an open letter published in the Daily Maverick, the HCI board puts forward that there has been no evidence that sound produced from these surveys has any "biologically significant impact on any marine populations" in the survey areas.

HCI's board also suggested opposition to oil exploration by civil society will simply leave the country dependent on imports of oil.

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