Investigation into hydraulic fracking

Investigation into hydraulic fracking

At a briefing held at Parliament on 11 September 2012, South Africa’s Mineral Resources Minister, Susan Shabangu release the Executive Summary of the investigation into hydraulic fracturing (also referred to as ‘fracking’) in South Africa’s Karoo basin, for the exploration of shale gas deposits. This follows months of anticipation on the subject, following outcry by environmental lobbying groups about the possible negative environmental effects of fracking, including possible Constitutional Court challenge.

Government would stop the exploration of shale gas if it is found that hydraulic fracturing posed a risk to the water table and to the multi-billion rand Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope, the Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu said on Tuesday. Minister Shabangu said the report states certain conditions which may lead to the exploration process being halted. “We are a water scarce country. If the process is such that there is a threat to water in South Africa, we would have to stop the process… if there is going to be an extremely negative impact on (SKA) and they cannot mitigate it, we may need to stop the process,” she said.

Cabinet decision
Cabinet approved the lifting last week of a previously imposed moratorium on fracking, which was imposed in February 2011, allowing licenses for the exploration of shale gas to be issued under certain circumstances. The decision by the cabinet to lift the moratorium was made after the submission of a lengthy report by a task team, headed by the chief executive of PetroSA, which looked at environmental factors, technical specifications of fracking, the regulatory framework, impact on SKA and economic implications of a ban. The task team is made up of the departments of environmental and water affairs, science and technology, energy, mineral resources, SKA SA, the Council of Geoscience, the Water Research Commission and Eskom. In compiling their report, members of the task team completed study visits to the US, to Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, and to energy regulators in the respective states.

According to reports, the US Energy Information Administration has estimated that the Karoo Basin contained a technically recoverable resource of 485 trillion cubic feet of gas. Under the cabinet decision, the actual fracturing cannot be done now, even though exploration will involve some drilling, said Shabangu. The Minister also announced that the government would now begin engaging community members and roleplayers affected by shale gas exploration.

The Mineral Resources Minister confirmed that five companies had expressed an interest in exploration of shale gas and would apply for prospecting licenses as soon as the application process is released. Minister Shabangu said the full report was still undergoing final edits and would be released shortly.

Recommendations
Detailing the recommendations by the fracking task team contained in the report, Minister Shabangu said these included that a monitoring committee be constituted to supervise fracking operations among other things. The monitoring committee would ensure that regulations are followed and that appropriate regulations, controls and co-ordination systems be established between the next six and 12 months

In addition to the setting up of a monitoring committee, the task team recommended that SKA SA work closely with the department to ensure that the multi-billion rand telescope project is not compromised.

Furthermore, the task team recommended that ongoing research be carried out in the environmental impact of shale gas and to develop new and better methods for hydraulic fracturing.

Minister Shabangu also added that the government wanted to ensure that there was broad economic participation in the exploration of shale gas and that environmental regulations were adhered to.

Reaction
Treasure Karoo Action Group chairman Jonathan Deal, who was present at the briefing, asked Minister Shabangu why the government had chosen to raise the fracking moratorium first and then engage with South Africans, rather than engage during the moratorium. In reply, Minister Shabangu said the government first needed to formulate its position and take a decision on the matter before it met with community members and stakeholders. However, she said the government is prepared to defend in the courts its decision to allow exploration of shale gas.

ETHICORE will continue to monitor the Governmental process and consultation on the investigation into hydraulic fracking in the Karoo. Please feel free to contact us should you have any enquiries on the process, both to date and forthcoming.

The Executive Summary of the Investigation of Hydraulic Fracturing in the Karoo Basin of South Africa, can be downloaded here: executive_summary_shale_gas_report