(GIN)—Energy giant Shell Global suffered a major setback in their fight for prospecting rights, overstepping the needs of rural communities seeking to protect whales and other marine life and keeping their coastline safe from oil spills and other dangers.

A panel of South African judges sided with the rural communities, fishermen, traditional healers and environmental activists against the oil giant and the South African government which granted exploration rights to Shell and a local partner over the objections of people living on the coastline.

It was a  rare victory in a country that has long favored development over the environment.

Civil rights organizations and civilians celebrated outside the courthouse following the verdict, according to local media.


According to media reports, Shell was planning to conduct a seismic survey in the “Wild Coast” —a popular tourist area of beaches and forests—using blaring sound waves every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day for five months—in their search for oil and gas deposits. It shocked local residents who enlisted the aid of environmental lawyers and activists. They sued Shell Global and South Africa’s Dept. of Mineral Resources and Energy, claiming that government had not heard the community’s concerns before granting exploration rights.

Judges agreed, adding that the government also failed to properly notify the people living along the coast.

Communities said they first heard of Shell’s plans 30 days before the seismic activity was set to begin and not all local residents got the news. A notice in English and Afrikaans language newspapers did not reach remote villages where isiXhosa is the main language.

Attorney John Lorenzen, one of the lawyers representing the community, denied it was an anti-oil and gas judgment.

“The heart of the case was about whether they have a right to be consulted or not,” he said.

The ruling does not bar another company, however, to purchase the exploration rights and begin prospecting if they were to follow the correct procedures in consulting the community.

South Africa’s energy ministry had backed the scheme and criticized those who opposed it as thwarting investment in the country’s development.