Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane supports Shell's plans in Wild Coast: 'They must be given a chance'

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  • Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane believes the economy of the province will improve if Shell finds oil on the Wild Coast.
  • The energy giants will map the ocean floor from Morgan Bay, outside East London, to Port St Johns , searching for signs of oil and gas deposits.
  • By Wednesday, more than 402 000 people had signed a petition boycotting the seismic survey.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane has thrown his weight behind Shell's seismic survey along the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast, despite global fury over the possible catastrophic impact the blasting of the sea floor might cause to marine life. 

While acknowledging the environmental concerns, Mabuyane said he believes the economic spin-offs could transform the lives of the people in the poverty-stricken villages along the coast.   

He made the remarks at an East London Industrial Development Zone event last week.

Shell announced it would begin blasting the seafloor on the unspoilt Wild Coast - from Morgan Bay, outside East London, to Port St Johns - for the next five months in search of gas and oil deposits.

The survey area is more than 20km from the coast at its closest point, with water depths ranging from 700m to 3 000m, and it covers 6 011 square kilometres.

The use of military-grade seismic cannons to blast 260-decibel sound waves every 10 seconds for 24 hours over five months is giving scientists and environmentalists sleepless nights.  

READ | Shell oil and gas exploration fury spreads to UK

Experts opposed to the survey believe it could disrupt ecosystem function for all marine life, from the smallest crustaceans, squid, and mesopelagic fish to larger marine mammals, like dolphins and whales. Some believe creatures will die or suffer permanent defects.

Mabuyane said:

There is a sea of poverty and serious underdevelopment in that particular area. We believe that when you talk sustainable development, you talk about developing the people and simultaneously looking after the environment. These two should be able to go together if we follow our laws properly in the country.

He added: "We believe that seismic survey should be given a chance."

He explained that a province like the Eastern Cape could not afford to chase away investors, adding that the government could not watch people starve for the sake of saving the environment "because one day the people will be left with no choice but to raid the same [protected] environment in search for food".

Shell's plans have sparked outrage throughout the country and abroad, with the launch of protest marches.

ALSO READ | This too Shell pass - fight to stop Wild Coast seismic survey is not over

UK-based Africans gathered outside the South African High Commission in Trafalgar Square on Sunday to show solidarity with those opposed to the survey. 

shell seismic
Hundreds of South Africans took to beaches across the country to protest against Shell's seismic survey.

In South Africa, protesters took to shorelines in large parts of the country, including Cape Town's Hout Bay and Muizenberg, the Eastern Cape's Nahoon Beach in East London, and Mbizana's Mzamba in the former Transkei, to protest against Shell's plans.

Claire Taylor, co-founder of the KwaZulu-Natal Mid-South Coast Ocean Supporters NPO (KMOS) said they were overwhelmed by support from local communities.


"We are already seeing the devastating results of climate change throughout the world, and yet such backwards-thinking, profit-driven, fossil fuel exploration will still continue to deplete our oceans of their resources, and the very lifeblood of planet Earth. Are we beyond the tipping point?" she said.

A petition to stop the seismic survey garnered 402 465 signatures by Wednesday.

Two different groups launched two urgent High Court interdict applications to block Shell. One was unsuccessful and the High Court in Makhanda still needs to decide on the second one.

Shell appointed Shearwater GeoServices to conduct a three-dimensional (3D) offshore seismic survey from Morgan Bay to Port St Johns to map potential oil and gas deposits under the seabed. 

Shell Exploration and Production South Africa said it anticipated that the survey would take four to five months to complete, depending on the weather and other conditions.

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