Res­i­dents re­ject KZN frack­ing ex­plo­ration

Con­cern about en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - LYSE COMINS [email protected] Nevin Reddy

BUSI­NESS own­ers, en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, farm­ers and ru­ral dwellers have re­sound­ingly re­jected a pro­posal to ex­plore for oil and gas in the Drak­ens­berg, fear­ing it could lead to en­vi­ron­men­tally haz­ardous frack­ing ac­tiv­ity across swathes of prime land in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.

This is ac­cord­ing to Rhino Oil and Gas Ex­plo­ration South Africa’s find­ings dur­ing pub­lic hear­ings as recorded in a Scop­ing Re­port for its ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­plore for oil and gas that was re­leased for pub­lic com­ment on Fri­day. The pub­lic has un­til Fe­bru­ary11 to sub­mit com­ments re­gard­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion.

Rhino Oil and Gas Ex­plo­ration South Africa, a sub­sidiary of US-based Rhino Re­sources Ltd, lodged an ap­pli­ca­tion with the Pe­tro­leum Agency of South Africa for an ex­plo­ration right to search for po­ten­tial sub-sur­face oil and gas de­posits in­clud­ing, oil, gas, con­den­sate, coal bed meth­ane, he­lium and bio­genic gas, over ap­prox­i­mately 6000 prop­er­ties, last month.

The ex­plo­ration area in­cludes just more than one mil­lion hectares of land ex­tend­ing from the Mooi River, Est­court and Bergville ar­eas up Van Ree­nen’s Pass to south of Memel in the Free State. It also ex­tends west along the Le­sotho bor­der, past Phutha­ditjhaba and Clarens and north-west be­yond Beth­le­hem and Lind­ley.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port “the pro­posed ex­plo­ration work pro­gramme is re­stricted to desk­top data re­view and the un­der­tak­ing of an ae­rial sur­vey. No stim­u­la­tion, pres­sure test­ing, hy­draulic frac­tur­ing or wa­ter ab­strac­tion is in­cluded in the pro­posed ex­plo­ration work”.

Pro­tected ar­eas and res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties had been ex­cluded from the ex­plo­ration right ap­pli­ca­tion area in terms of Sec­tion 48 of the Min­er­als and Pe­tro­leum Re­sources De­vel­op­ment Act, the re­port noted. How­ever, the list of af­fected prop­er­ties in­cludes farms and sev­eral ho­tels and re­sorts close to the pro­tected Ukhahlamba Drak­ens­berg Park.

The re­port says the firm re­ceived ap­prox­i­mately 400 writ­ten com­ment sub­mis­sions dur­ing the pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion process.

“The great ma­jor­ity of in­ter­ested and af­fected par­ties are strongly op­posed to all forms of oil and gas ex­plo­ration, and to this ap­pli­ca­tion in par­tic­u­lar. Over­all, the pub­lic op­po­si­tion makes for a very strong ar­gu­ment against the ap­pli­ca­tion and the process. It is ev­i­dent that the pri­mary driver of the op­po­si­tion is con­cerns about fu­ture risks,” the re­port said.

The scop­ing re­port high­lighted the main con­cerns be­ing about the fu­ture risks to wa­ter, land, nat­u­ral ecosys­tems and ru­ral tourism economies that might arise from pro­duc­tion if a re­source is found. It also noted that the pub­lic had raised con­cerns about ex­plor­ing for new hy­dro­car­bon-based en­ergy sources rather than de­vel­op­ing re­new­able en­ergy.

The re­port said the pub­lic had also ex­pressed “con­cern that given the money in­volved, if any hy­dro­car­bon re­source is found, it will not be pos­si­ble to stop pro­duc­tion re­gard­less of what the fu­ture En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact As­sess­ment pro­cesses may in­di­cate in terms of risk. Thus the only way to avoid such risks is to not open the door to such projects”.

How­ever, the com­pany re­sponded to these con­cerns in the re­port say­ing that if any re­sources were found dur­ing ex­plo­ration, a fur­ther ap­pli­ca­tion for ex­trac­tion and pro­duc­tion would have to be made, and this could be de­clined due to po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal risks.

En­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice or­gan­i­sa­tion Ground­Work cam­paign re­searcher Nevin Reddy said the NGO was op­posed to the ap­pli­ca­tion .

“We can­not al­low this to go ahead be­cause ex­plo­ration at this phase is with the in­ten­tion to be­gin frack­ing. Ev­ery com­mu­nity we are work­ing with in KwaZulu-Natal and in other parts of South Africa are to­tally against this,” Reddy said.

Janse Ra­bie, the head of nat­u­ral re­sources at Agri SA, a fed­er­a­tion of agri­cul­tural or­gan­i­sa­tions rep­re­sent­ing 29000 farm­ers, said the or­gan­i­sa­tion was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mat­ter.

“We are not sure about shale gas de­vel­op­ment and where the wa­ter is com­ing from and what is go­ing to be done about dirty/con­tam­i­nated wa­ter. The prob­lem is that once an ex­plo­ration right is granted, there is an au­to­matic en­ti­tle­ment to (ap­ply for and) be granted a pro­duc­tion right,” he said.

A copy of the re­port can be down­loaded at https://slr­con­sult­­u­ments

We can­not al­low this as ex­plo­ration at this stage is with the in­ten­tion to be­gin frack­ing.

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