S.African court halts Shell's offshore seismic survey

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A South African high court on Tuesday blocked Shell from conducting seismic testing offshore from South Africa's pristine Wild Coast, in the latest ruling in a case seeking to prevent the oil major from exploring for oil and gas.

On Dec. 3 a different high court order gave Shell the go-ahead to conduct an extensive seismic survey off South Africa's eastern coast, but this is stopped by Tuesday's ruling that forms part of a broader court application contending Shell did not have the necessary environmental approvals.

"We respect the court’s decision and have paused the survey while we review the judgement," a Shell spokesperson said.

Environmentalists and others have protested against Shell's plans for seismic blasting, saying its underwater acoustics are harmful to marine animals, especially migrating whales.

"Shell must stop pending the resolution of our application for a final interdict, which we are equally confident of," Johan Lorenzen, one of the lawyers representing fishing communities along the east coast told Reuters.

But, South Africa's energy minister has defended Shell's plans, saying its critics want to deprive Africa of energy resources.

Despite global efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and pressure from many governments and investors to limit the carbon emissions that drive global warming, offshore South Africa has seen a flurry of exploration activity and significant discoveries.

South Africa, which is a net importer of petroleum products, is eager to source feedstock for its state-run Mossel Bay gas-to-liquid refinery that was operating at a fraction of its output because of dwinding domestic gas supplies.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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