Shell has lost a South African court appeal that was attempting to overturn a previous judgment blocking offshore oil exploration on the Wild Coast, in the country’s eastern region.

However, in a partial victory for the British multinational, the ruling also includes the possibility of a renewal of the exploration rights, according to Bloomberg.

This allows Shell another chance at a public consultation. In fact, the lack of public consultation was among the key reasons a lower court previously ruled against Shell.

In 2021, various environmental groups including Greenpeace managed to stop any exploration activity in the area, a relatively untouched and underdeveloped coastal region.

The groups cited concerns that local communities were not properly consulted and about the impact initial exploration surveys would have on the region’s climate, local residents, and marine life.

In 2022, South Africa’s high court ruled that the decisions to grant the exploration right be reviewed and set aside.

Shell appealed this decision soon after, arguing that the court had erred in various aspects, arguing that climate change and heritage rights should not have been considered by the court.

However, on Monday, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal, as per a summary of the judgment seen by the news outlet.

However, in a move that gives Shell a glimmer of hope, the court also suspended several orders setting aside the granting of the exploration right and two renewals, in 2017 and 2021.

This suspension is pending the finalization of a third renewal.

According to news reports, Shell welcomed the court’s assertion that the exploration rights remain valid, subject to further public consultation and the renewal application. The company is considering next steps.

Natural Justice, which specializes in environmental law and social and environmental justice, and one of the groups involved in the case, said the court’s decision “is a disappointing outcome for the communities and supporting organizations”, as it allows for the potential renewal of the exploration right.

Environmental groups and coastal communities have protested against Shell’s plans for seismic surveys on the Wild Coast, arguing that the acoustics are harmful to marine animals. Oil companies have rejected these claims.

The groups fighting against the offshore activity are considering an appeal to the country’s Constitutional Court.

With Shell and TotalEnergies recently making oil discoveries in neighboring Namibia, oil companies are looking closely at developing South Africa’s hydrocarbon sector, something many of the nation’s politicians see as a way to stimulate economic development.

However, environmental activists in South Africa have secured multiple victories in court against oil exploration activity in recent years.


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