KZN exploration bid: Texas firm backs down

File picture: Hasan Jamali

File picture: Hasan Jamali

Published Sep 13, 2016


Durban - The Texas-based oil exploration company Rhino Resources has cut back on the scale of its proposed oil and gas exploration bid in KwaZulu-Natal after a major public backlash.

The company’s local subsidiary company, Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration, lodged an exploration application early last year covering a massive 1 500 000ha chunk of the province and nearly 10 000 farms.

Now the scale of its exploration bid has been reduced to 850 000ha and about 6 700 properties in central KZN.

Environmental consultants acting for the company acknowledged that there had been “extremely strong” and almost unanimous public opposition to the exploration plan, which could ultimately involve hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

SLR environmental consultants said it was evident that the majority of opposition was against the environmental and social risks of fracking if viable oil and gas reserves were to be found.

“It is further perceived that this (fracking) could lead to widespread impacts on water and land, causing devastation to livelihoods. The perception is informed by the widely publicised negative impacts of hydraulic fracturing and the decisions taken by many governing bodies around the world to suspend such activities,” the consultants said in a notice published at the weekend.

“The related concern is that once an exploration right is granted, it will be nearly impossible to stop the process later.

“For these reasons the public approach is to close the door on exploration before it opens... thereby preventing any future risk, or potential benefit, from resulting.”

Despite the opposition, the consultants have recommended that exploration go ahead anyway.

They said Rhino had also decided to cancel any ground-based exploration.

Instead, the company would focus only on an aerial survey method known as “full tensor gradiometry” (FTG).

This method used multiple pairs of accelerometers to measure the rate of change of the gravity field to build up a picture of underground geology.

“FTG surveys involved grid-based flights using a light fixed-wing aircraft at an altitude of between 80m and 300m above the ground.”

In good weather, such a survey would take less than seven days to complete.

If the aerial surveys suggested commercially viable reserves of oil and gas in the exploration area, further environmental impact studies would have to be done before any ground-based drilling or exploration activities.

Responding yesterday, the coalition group Frack Free South Africa said: “We believe that this implies that (Rhino) have noted the resounding message they received during the initial public meetings and realised that this could result in their application being refused.

“Remember, there is a very real possibility of Rhino selling the information they gather on to another company who could then proceed with extraction. So we don’t want them to get the data - no matter that the techniques are non-invasive.”

The coalition group said the threat to lives and livelihoods in KZN remained real.

“Coal bed methane exists where our water factories are located and will impact our water supplies to the detriment of everyone. Remember that the Vaal water supply system gets a lot of its water from the Thukela River, so this is not only something affecting KZN.

“Mining is already responsible for the disruption of the social fabric of communities and towns across South Africa and no area is able to claim to be better off as a result of mining.”

Members of the public have now been invited to comment on the draft environmental impact studies before October 14.

Six public feedback meetings have been scheduled in Richmond, Colenso, Mooi River, Howick, Greytown and Dundee from October 3 to 7.

* To see a map of the revised exploration area (documents for comment), visit


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