Cape Town - It’s high noon for fracking, with anti-fracking lobby group Treasure the Karoo Action Group calling on President Jacob Zuma to place an immediate moratorium on this controversial shale-gas extraction method or face legal action.
The group, supported by AfriForum (the civil rights group linked to trade union Solidarity), has told the president that if the government takes longer than 30 days to deal “substantively” with issues raised in its 18-page letter sent on Monday, it reserves its rights “to steps less co-operative and non-confrontational than this letter”.
In particular, it’s “poised” for liti-gation that will be “enormously expensive and embarrassing” for the government, and it also reserves the right to approach Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, the group says.
But chances of the government meeting the group’s demands appear slim.
In her maiden budget speech on Monday, Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said the pace of oil and gas exploration – including shale- gas exploration – by the state and other industry players would be intensified, and that the development of shale gas could not be dismissed or ignored.
“On the contrary, we should be learning from others on how to best exploit this resource in the least intrusive and environmentally prudent way. The United States anticipates complete independence from Middle Eastern crude oil by 2020, as a direct result of their development of shale-gas reserves.”
Her department would implement fracking “to the highest environmental standards and regulation” and she was happy that state utility PetroSA had a “dedicated focus” on shale gas and had established a unit “to ensure it is prepared for shale gas activities”.
Announcing the letter to Zuma that was also copied to eight cabinet ministers (but not Joemat-Pettersson) yesterday, action group chief executive Jonathan Deal said it included new scientific evidence of concerns about fracking. This included:
l A report, “Environmental impacts of shale-gas extraction in Canada”, by the Council of Canadian Academies.
l The “Havemann Report” that was a critical review of Shell’s draft environmental management plan for its proposed shale-gas prospecting.
l Professor Martin de Wit’s critical review of the Econometrix report, commissioned by Shell and written by the late economist Tony Twine, that found that Karoo shale-gas development could boost South Africa’s GDP annually by between R80-billion and R200bn and create between 300 000 and 700 000 jobs.
“When read in the context of the debate and in the light of a dearth of public participation, (this new evidence) must surely raise red flags for the government regarding constitutionality, sustainability, science and the rule of law,” Deal said.
Julius Kleynhans, AfriForum’s head of environmental affairs, said AfriForum believed the new evidence and the lack of public participation in fracking policy development required “immediate attention”.
“Given the unequivocal statements of President Zuma about fracking in his State of the Nation addresses this year, we believe the only way in which he can now halt the process that he has effectively set in motion is via an immediate moratorium.”
In both speeches, Zuma said fracking would be “a game-changer” for the economy.
In the energy budget debate, the ACDP’s Cheryllyn Dudley said her party expected “far greater opportunity to be provided to thoroughly investigate all issues related to shale gas in South Africa”.
“If hearings are not held and taken seriously, the resulting actions could be challenged in the Constitutional Court,” she warned.
The development of unconventional oil and gas resources – including shale gas – holds prospects for dramatically changing the global energy supply.
But an assessment of the environmental impacts of fracking is hampered by a lack of information about many key issues – particularly the problem of fracking fluids escaping from incompletely sealed wells.
This is according to the Council of Canadian Academies’ report, “Environmental impacts of shale-gas extraction in Canada”, produced by a multidisciplinary panel of experts.
Primary concerns are listed as:
l Degradation of the quality of groundwater and surface water.
l The safe disposal of large volumes of wastewater.
l The risk of increased greenhouse gas emissions, including “fugitive” methane.
l Disruptive effects on communities and land.
l Adverse effects on human health that have not been well studied.
“In most instances, shale-gas extraction has proceeded without sufficient environmental baseline data being collected... Some of the possible environmental and health effects of shale-gas development may take decades to become apparent.”
The report did not include recommendations as this was not part of the council’s mandate.