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South African court bans offshore oil and gas exploration by Shell

Judgment is huge victory for campaigners concerned about effect of seismic waves on marine life

A South African court has upheld a ban imposed on the energy giant Shell from using seismic waves to explore for oil and gas off the Indian Ocean coast.

The judgment delivered in Makhanda on Thursday marks a monumental victory for environmentalists concerned about the impact the exploration would have on whales and other marine life.

The 2014 decision granting the right for the “exploration of oil and gas in the Transkei and Algoa exploration areas is reviewed and set aside”, the high court ruled in the southern city.

Civil rights organisations and civilians celebrated outside the courthouse following the verdict, according to local media.

A Shell spokesperson said the company “respect[s] the court’s decision” and would review the judgment to “determine our next steps”. Shell did not say if it would appeal against the judgment or not. “We remain committed to South Africa and our role in the just energy transition,” he said.

Last December the same court had issued an interim order prohibiting the firm from going ahead with its plans.

Green Connection, one of the environmental and human rights organisations that filed the case against Shell, said that “civil society, traditional communities and small-scale [fishermen] have once again been vindicated by the courts”.

The petroleum firm was set to collect 3D seismic data over more than 6,000 sq km (2,300 sq miles) of ocean off South Africa’s Wild Coast – a 300km (185-mile) stretch of rich waters housing exquisite marine life and natural reserves.

Campaigners argued the research would have sent “extremely” loud shock waves every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day for five months, potentially harming marine species and disrupting their routines.

South Africa’s energy ministry had backed the scheme, and criticised those who opposed it as thwarting investment in the country’s development.

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