After many months of very little action, the possibility of fracking in the Karoo has become reality (“Fracas over fracking”, Bulletin, July 2, 2015).
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane announced on Thursday March 30 that the government had given the go-ahead for shale gas development in the Karoo region.
He revealed this during a community engagement on shale gas development in Richmond, in the Northern Cape.
“Based on the balance of available scientific evidence, government took a decision to proceed with the development of shale gas in the Karoo formation of South Africa,” he said in a speech.
He said the regulatory framework would ensure that shale gas was “safely developed” through hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking.
Constantia activist and anti-fracking protester Marilyn Lilley says: “With South Africa’s ongoing drought and severe water shortages it’s unconscionable for the Department of Mineral Resources to even consider permitting fracking.”
Ms Lilley has been closely following the proposed fracking in the Karoo since February 2011 when the public first became aware of Shell’s shale gas exploration licence application in the Karoo along with applications by Bundu and Falcon.
Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) was formed in 2011 and she has closely supported them since their inception.
Fracking is a process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressures to release natural gas from inside.
Three major energy companies – Shell, Bundu Gas and Oil Exploration, and Falcon Oil and Gas – have applied for shale gas exploration rights across vast areas of the Karoo, although drilling would be limited to relatively few test wells if these applications were to be approved.
A year ago, government ended speculation over the project after it announced that exploration for shale gas would begin in the next financial year, according to the AFP (Agence France-Presse).
On March 30 Mr Zwane said they were mindful of the risks and challenges of the development, especially on water and the environment.
He said a socio-economic and environmental assessment had been conducted beforehand.
“This was necessary to enable a process of data and information collection for informed decision-making on shale gas development.”
He said they were committed to developing the resource sustainably.
Assurances were made that the farming community would benefit from shale gas development, while the Square Kilometer Array would not be affected.
However, Ms Lilley believes the statement by Mr Zwane is “unfortunate and ill-informed”. “Firstly, he has made these statements while the regulations published in 2015 are still at the centre of an ongoing legal challenge,” she said, referring to the case by alliance partners Afriforum and Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) against the Department of Mineral Resources which is soon to be heard in the North Gauteng High Court.
“… and while the Minerals and Petroleum Resource Development Act amendments are still not finalised,” she said.
“Furthermore, his statement follows the finalisation and release of two studies commissioned by government – both of which have questioned the figures quoted by Shell and senior government officials in connection with job creation and economic benefits, and which cautioned against potential health and environmental impacts,” said Ms Lilley.
Ms Lilley said the final report of the Strategic Environmental Assessment on Shale Gas Development, done by the CSIR, SANBI and the Council of Geoscience, concluded that environmental baseline studies and further studies on certain aspects should be conducted before allowing shale gas development.
As to when drilling would begin, Mr Zwane said the finalisation of Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) amendments would help to expedite the development of shale gas.
The department estimated that up to 50 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of shale gas was recoverable in the Karoo Basin, especially in the Eastern, Northern, and Western Cape provinces.
Mr Zwane said it was in their interests to ensure all South Africans benefited socially and economically from the mineral wealth.
“The country had been largely dependent on coal as a single source of energy for many years,” he said, adding that government had decided to diversify the energy basket to provide “cost-competitive energy security” and to “significantly reduce the carbon footprint”.
“Government will ensure that you are kept up to date about the exploration method and benefits that can be realised from the development of shale gas and informed about the mechanisms and instruments that seek to augment existing laws for the protection of water resources and for the protection of the environment,” said Mr Zwane.
“No exploration rights have yet been issued in the Karoo,” said Ms Lilley.