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Litigation imminent as LRC backs Fishing Communities of the west coast against seismic surveys.

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has thrown its weight behind the West Coast fishing communities, to suspend the Searcher Geodata UK Limited (Searcher) seismic survey which is due to begin on 15 January 2022.

The west coast fishing communities have contested the way in which the permit was issued by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy and the Petroleum Agency of South Africa, saying that they were not consulted and have a deep, vested interest in preserving the natural environment of the west coast, which is the source of their livelihoods.

True to form, notifications and permit allocations of these types of permits and activities were issued just as South Africa began its festive period and in a time when a large portion of South Africa’s blue- and white-collar work-force goes on leave or are engaged in other activities. Coincidentally, this is when, by law, the consultants, on behalf of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, are required to capture and record comments, concerns and issues from Interested and Affected Parties adjacent to the areas of application.

Furthermore, the west coast communities say that at neither stage of the permit application or environmental management plan process, did Searcher (or their consultants, SLR Consulting) properly engage with them. In addition, Searcher failed to do so prior to the commencement of its seismic survey programme, which is to begin in less than 72 hours.

It appears that Searcher did not have any pending application lodged with Department of Mineral Resources and Energy or the Petroleum Agency of South Africa, in terms of the EIA Regulations during the time between 4 December 2014 – 10 June 2021. This time period is significant because ‘reconnaissance’ (seismic surveys) had been delisted (by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy) (See ONO blog here) as a restricted activity. LRC is of the opinion that, from 11 June 2021, after the new amendments of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations were gazetted and took effect, the transitional arrangements provided for in regulation 30 of the 2021 Amendment Regulations do not apply, therefore without a valid environmental authorisation and accompanying permit, Searcher’s activities and operations will be unlawful.

The LRC have given Searcher until 14 January 2022 (18h00) to respond to their request of suspending their seismic survey plans, otherwise legal action will be taken in a similar vain to the Shell Interdict.

Letter from LRC below:

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