Johannesburg – South Africa’s energy minister on Thursday defended plans for oil and gas exploration by energy giant Shell along a pristine stretch of coast, accusing opponents of deliberately seeking to block investment.
Environmentalists last week protested against Shell’s plans to search for oil and gas deposits off South Africa’s beloved Wild Coast – a key tourist attraction – over concerns it could endanger marine life.
“I cannot help but ask: are the objections meant to ensure the status quo remains in Africa… and South Africa in particular,” Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said at a press briefing, listing long-standing “energy poverty”, unemployment, stagnating economies and debt.
“Could it be possible that this is an extreme pure love for the environment, or an unrelenting campaign to ensure that Africa and South Africa do not see the investment inflows they need?” he continued.
Shell plans to use seismic waves emitted from boats equipped with air cannons to analyse the geological structure of the ocean floor, hunting for spots likely to contain hydrocarbons.
Ecologists say the exploration technique could upset marine animals, particularly sea creatures such as whales that rely heavily on their sense of hearing.
A court last Friday quashed their request for an emergency injunction against Shell’s plans.
Mantashe said there was “currently no conclusive evidence or scientific research” to show that seismic surveys harm marine life.
He said the seismic source would not be blasted into the ocean “as purported by some media”, but released into the seabed as compressed air.
The minister also cited oil and gas exploration carried out in other countries such as Norway, Saudi Arabia and Germany.
“Those economies are thriving today,” he said.
“Africa deserves and equal chance to develop its economies on the strength of her natural resources.”
The Wild Coast includes several nature reserves and protected marine areas stretching along some 300 kilometres (180 miles) of unspoiled Indian Ocean shoreline.
Shell plans to spend four to five months exploring in the region over an area of 6 000 square kilometres.
The company told AFP it would “minimise” the impact on wildlife.
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