The oil major has pulled out from a British project and stopped South African exploration. Its climate targets require that production be halted.
For the Amadiba community on South Africa’s “wild coast”, the Indian Ocean isn’t just an economic resource which provides fishers with livelihoods. It’s also spiritual.
“The oceans are sacred to us,” said Sinegugu Zukulu, an Amadiba environmental activist. Traditional healers are trained to perform rituals at the beach to consult with their ancestors. Many African churches have performed baptisms in waters of the ocean. “So we cannot allow our ocean to be used for activities that are going to lead to destruction and render the ocean useless to us.”
Shell, the European oil giant, is the one to whom Zuklulu addressed his warning. Shell has paid ships soundwaves to be shot at the Indian Ocean to search for oil. Zuklulu, along with other campaigners, took Shell to court, arguing the local communities weren’t properly consulted. They say the seismic surveys will scare off fish and any future oil spill would devastate the region’s fishing and tourism industries and cause spiritual damage.
Just before the New Year, a high court judge made an interim ruling in their favour. He ordered Shell to cease drilling while the court case is being heard. Monday will see the final decision in the case.
Shell has terminated its contract with the vessel. The weather window for surveying is closing and they won’t be able to start again anytime soon. The oil major is “considering best way forward,” a spokesperson said.
Zukulu believes the battle is far not over. “Shell doesn’t give up easily,” he said. “They have got deep pockets. They will always put up a fight”.
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But Shell’s stomach for a fight may be diminishing. It pulled out of the Cambo oilfield development off the coast Scotland in December, just a few months after an Stop Cambo campaign was launched.
A spokesperson said the “economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time, as well as having the potential for delays”. Why would there need to be delays? Kayaking activists for one. Opposition from Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon for another.
Shell’s climate strategy calls for a 1-2% decrease in oil production per year to reach net zero by 2050 (with caveats). That doesn’t mean drilling stops. Its wells have an average natural decline rate of 5%. Shell is still exploring new frontiers, just more selectively, prioritising “value over volumes”.
A Dutch court ruled in May that the Hague-based company must go further. This landmark case was ruled by a Dutch court. Shell was ordered to reduce its emissions by 45%, including those generated by customers who use its products, between 2019 and 2030.
Sjoukie Van Oosterhout, who led campaigners’ research for the Dutch court case, said that for Shell to comply with the court’s ruling then “there’s not many other ways than decreasing oil and gas production all over the world”.
Although the company is appealing, the appeal will not be heard before the end of 2023. The company is legally bound to obey the judgement, although it is unclear how this will be enforced.
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Climate Home News spoke with Mike Coffin, a Carbon Tracker researcher, and an ex-BP geologist. He said that there was a gap between European oil majors such as Shell, BP, and Eni, and US-based firms such as Conoco Phillips or Exxon-Mobil.
He said: “Those [European] companies… see lower long term oil prices perhaps than North American companies who may be a bit more bullish on how long the oil sector can continue.”
In Argentina, Equinor and Shell’s proposals for offshore oil exploration provoked thousands of people to protest in Buenos Aires last week. Protesters said to AFP that they were concerned about oil leaks and the impact of seismic exploration on marine life.
US campaigners are challenging an auction of licenses for oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Joe Biden’s administration, under pressure from a Louisiana court ruling, launched an auction at which Shell bought several leases.
Elsewhere, Shell’s oil production has met less resistance. Shell holds a minority stake in Brazil’s offshore Mero oil and gas fields. Claudio Angelo (communications co-ordinator at Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory) said that this development was not a high-profile issue due to the fact that campaigners and journalists are focused on the Amazon rainforest deforestation.
“Shell has long seen Brazil as a strategic lifeline as it faced setbacks elsewhere, for climate legislation or other reasons,” he said.
Other major Shell oil & gas production sites include Nigerian, Kazakhstan, Oman and Malaysia. There, civil society is generally weaker, and less focused on climate changes.
Source: Climate Change News