Tony Carnie

DURBAN: Another massive chunk of KwaZulu-Natal has been earmarked for petroleum exploration, opening the door for potential oil drilling and gas fracking on nearly 40 percent of the land surface area of KZN.

The Texas-based exploration company Rhino Resources has already lodged an application to explore for oil and gas underneath a 1 500 000ha belt of land that includes 10 000 farms in the central part of KZN.

The first exploration zone stretches from Ixopo in the south to Nkandla in the north, taking in the areas around Pietermaritzburg, Mooi River, Ladysmith and Colenso.

Now Rhino Resources has announced further plans to explore a second belt of land covering almost 2 000 000ha and nearly 5 500 farms in the Newcastle, Vryheid, Pongola, Melmoth and Nongoma areas.

The two combined exploration zones cover nearly 37.5 percent of KZN’s total land surface area and nearly 15 500 farms.

Rhino Resources’ environmental consultants insist that the “early-phase” exploration work over three years would not involve any hydraulic rock fracturing (fracking), but acknowledged that the exploration could lead to future gas fracking and oil well drilling.

Fracking raises major concerns around the pollution of surface and underground water supplies and earth tremors. Further concerns have also been raised in the US and other parts of the world about the potential human health impacts of water contaminated by toxic chemicals used in the fracking process.

Last year, the Oklahoma Geological Survey issued a public statement noting a significant increase in earthquakes and seismic events associated with the oil and gas industry. Whereas Oklahoma state had historically recorded an average of one-and-a-half earthquakes a year with a magnitude higher than three on the Richter scale, the survey was now recording an average of two-and-a-half earthquakes of this magnitude each day.

The KZN Agricultural Union also voiced strong concern about the potential impact on farming if oil and gas production went ahead.

Jeremy Ridl, a Durban environmental attorney and co-founder of Earth Watch, said: “We all understand that cheap energy will benefit our economy. But our economy… cannot survive without water.”