The Key Lesson from the Royal Dutch Shell Seismic Survey Saga

Back to Blog

The Key Lesson from the Royal Dutch Shell Seismic Survey Saga

The renowned Dutch oil company, Shell, recently expressed an interest in exploring potential hydrocarbon reserves beneath the seabed along South Africa’s Wild Coast. Royal Dutch Shell Plc had initially received the go ahead from the department of Mineral Resources and Energy and the South African High Court to conduct a seismic survey along South Africa’s Wild Coast. A seismic survey uses sound waves to map the terrain beneath the sea floor for pockets of oil or gas. Shell claims that dozens of these surveys have been conducted in South Africa with no known significant negative impacts to sea-life. In addition, Shell claim that the exploitation of the undersea gas reserves would enable South Africa to migrate away from coal dependence to a less environmentally damaging energy source.

Though the discovery of oil and gas reserves in South Africa could significantly contribute to the country’s energy security and national employment, South African environmentalists argue that there is much evidence that seismic surveys could negatively affect marine life along the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast and harm eco-tourism, which is one of the main employment sources in the region. The experiences with other mining companies in the region already demonstrates that the politically attractive claims of job creation typically fail to materialise.

In a world that still has not come to terms with the implications of climate change, the case of Shell’s seismic surveys once again raises some difficult questions: At what point does the national economy trump the local economy? Should emerging countries use fossil fuel financial gains to enable a green transition? How can governments and fossil fuel companies be held to account for their intertwined decisions?

Shell brands itself as a committed corporate citizen that cares for the environment, but its track-record in the Niger Delta and the Gulf of Mexico proves otherwise. It therefore comes as no surprise that the South African community are wary of the company’s intentions. While Shell’s reputation may precede it, negating any CSR or CSI initiatives, the company could have smoothed its path by thinking local first and political second.

A good CSR strategy puts people at the centre, builds trust between the community and the organisation, and ensures that the engagement between the company and the community translates into transparency, honesty and integrity. By acting politically first, and thinking local second (as Shell typically does), Royal Dutch Shell Plc failed to properly consult the local stakeholders, further breaking any possible trust between local communities and the company. Consequently, while Shell could provide a long list of tangible benefits this project might yield for the country, their motives will always be questioned due to their reputation for prioritising profit over people. The crucial lesson from this saga is that trust is built from the bottom up, it cannot be forced from the top down.

About the Author:
Yolanda Gossel is the Founder and Programme Director at Five Tulips, a South African based sustainability and corporate social investment (CSI) consultancy. Five Tulips forges partnerships between communities, public and private sectors and individuals for social upliftment and preservation of our planets resources and ecosystems.
To connect with me visit: 

Share This Post:
Back to Blog