Searcher to 'abandon' West Coast seismic survey after high court ruling

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
West Coast fishing communities hold a demonstration against seismic surveys, outside the Western Cape High Court.
West Coast fishing communities hold a demonstration against seismic surveys, outside the Western Cape High Court.
The Green Connection
  • A high court on Tuesday ruled that an interdict of a seismic survey off the West Coast will remain in place.
  • Searcher, the geoscience data company conducting the survey, now plans to abandon the project altogether.
  • West Coast fishing communities are appealing a reconnaissance permit Searcher has to conduct the survey.

Searcher, a geoscience data company conducting a seismic survey off the West Coast, plans to abandon the project altogether after a high court interdicted it.

In an emailed response on Wednesday, Alan Hopping, vice president of Searcher, told journalists that the vessel conducting the survey, BGP Pioneer, is "demobilising" and leaving South Africa "immediately".

"We have no other option but to abandon the project, and it will not [be] completed."

On Tuesday, the Western Cape High Court ruled that an interdict against the seismic survey would remain in place, pending the outcome of a legal challenge or appeal of Searcher's reconnaissance permit at a later stage.

The reconnaissance permit was granted to Searcher in May 2021.

West Coast fishing communities have argued that the permit is unlawful as they were not adequately consulted. They also put forward that Searcher does not have the required environmental authorisation to conduct the survey. But Searcher disputed this.

However, in his ruling, Judge Daniel Thulare established that although Searcher ran a consultation process, the illiterate and the poor and small-scale fishers were excluded from it.

This was the first seismic survey Searcher has conducted in South African waters. The data collected - of which Petroleum Agency SA (PASA) is custodian - would have benefitted oil and gas companies and could have been used for academic research purposes, Hopping previously told Fin24.

Hopping also said it is unlikely Searcher will pursue more seismic surveys in South Africa in future, given the business uncertainty. It took two years to plan the survey, and a full year of environmental studies and efforts to obtain permits.

"… This is of course very disappointing for us," he said.

According to court papers, Searcher stands to lose R405 million due to the interdict. It further argued that the SA economy would lose out on potential investments. But Thulare said that Searcher did not demonstrate how it arrived at these costs.

Hopping reiterated sentiments that South Africa would be losing out on other financial flows. He referred to new oil finds off the Namibian coast. Fin24 previously reported that two oil finds could rake in R53 billion in taxes for the country.

Hopping in his emailed response also emphasised that a lack of business certainty would deter further projects by the company in South Africa. "Until the government can provide business certainty regarding issued permits, South Africa will remain un-investable for us, and we will be unable to commence any new seismic survey projects."

Searcher will discuss options with government and "stakeholders" to achieve business certainty, he said. But this will be a "long and uncertain road" in light of the "anti-oil investment" sentiments by some groups in the country.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has previously spoken out against objections to oil and gas development in the country, arguing that it is a deterrence to investment.

At the National Energy dialogue last week, the minister commented that South Africa is being left behind in developing oil and gas resources.

"We do have them, but we can't touch them, because we are an island of angels. Everybody else must explore for coal, gas, and oil [despite the fact that] these fossil fuels are going to be part of our development for many years to come," Mantashe said.

Fin24 has reached out to PASA about the way forward. The article will be updated once a response is received.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

Government tenders

Find public sector tender opportunities in South Africa here.

Government tenders
This portal provides access to information on all tenders made by all public sector organisations in all spheres of government.
Browse tenders