OPINION: South Africa’s government, Shell and Impact Oil & Gas have lodged an appeal against a recent ruling that not only stopped a seismic survey taking place offshore, but also raised doubts about the validity of an exploration right (ER) covering acreage awarded a decade ago.

Assuming the appellants’ case is heard and their appeal succeeds, the industry would probably be able to breathe easier — at least for the time being.

However, if the appeal court finds for the seemingly virulent anti-fossil fuel groups who brought the original case, the impact on South Africa’s oil and gas scene could be profound, particularly if the original judge’s ruling on the validity of an ER — a foundation of the country’s licensing regime — is upheld.

For decades, upstream activities offshore South Africa were accepted by the public with little or no fuss.

Most onshore exploration and production operations also sailed smoothly through environmental approval processes, with the obvious exception being Shell’s controversial proposal to explore for shale gas in the semi-arid Karoo region which was effectively targeted by anti-fracking groups.

But the country’s mood, at least in some quarters, appeared to change after COP 26, with dedicated and well-orchestrated campaigners bursting into view and taking high profile players such as Shell to court.

It is immaterial how much public support these groups may or may not have — if they win their case then South Africa’s promising offshore oil and gas industry could be dead and buried just as it was springing to life.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)

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