In early July, Agri-EC president Ernest Pringle said they were dismayed at a statement by Kgalema Mothlanthe in June, in which South Africa’s Deputy President said the exploration for shale gas should be accelerated.
“To talk about accelerating a process without addressing any of the concerns spelt out in our document titled Prerequisites for Hydraulic Fracturing in the Eastern Cape is highly irresponsible. Any attempt to do so will be met with court action,” warned Pringle.
The document was sent to various stakeholders, including Government, in mid-January 2013.
The first condition is that before any hydraulic fracturing is done (whether for exploration or shale gas production), a Strategic Environmental Assessment should be carried out.
An SEA is a detailed, broad-based study that can shed light on the sustainability and long-term impacts of an industrial activity or policy.
The Agri-EC document goes on to specify that the study should involve “all leading national and international experts in the field of geo-hydrology, into the nature of this drilling process and its potential impacts on the environment. This investigation should include a scientific study into the sub-surface water structures, (including the interaction between shallow fresh water aquifers, deep aquifers and ancient aquifers) with a view to establishing whether the exploitation of shale gas utilising this method can be safely employed and, if so, to regulate that process properly.”
The document calls for guarantees from Government and the gas companies that they disclose all fracking chemicals and their hazard status upfront, that laws be passed to regulate and prevent damage to groundwater systems, that wastewater be stored and properly disposed of, that the applicant companies be liable for any road damage caused by trucks.
Government lifted the moratorium on shale gas exploration in September 2012, but specifically forbade hydraulic fracturing as part of exploration. Regulations on fracking are being drawn up, but until they are finalised, the applicants (Royal Dutch Shell, Falcon Oil and Gas, and Challenger Energy) are unlikely to receive their exploration licences.
Treasure the Karoo Action Group has also hinted at court action, especially since Government has indicated it will “alter legislation to centralise and fast-track environmental impact assessments under the Department of Mineral Resources. This is such a blatant conflict of interests that it defies belief,” said Jonathan Deal, founder and CEO of TKAG.
Deal has pointed out that shale gas extraction is a complex and broad subject.
“Many unknowns, uncertainties and significant public concerns point to a need for robust research before reaching a conclusion in favour of shale gas. If this goes down to the wire, it will ultimately end up in Constitutional Court.”