We would be better off buying natural gas from other countries, according to an expert, but with several exploration rights already granted in four provinces, fracking and other forms of gas extraction could soon be a reality in South Africa.
Despite this, environmental activists have squared up to continue battling government’s bid to attract investment and expand its energy mix by granting licences for fracking and other forms of extraction, not only in the Karoo, but in at least four provinces.
Several African countries, including Mozambique, have opened their doors for fuel companies such as Sasol to buy rights to extract the energy source.
But there have been as many case studies of stakeholders receiving precious little in return, while carrying the socio-economic costs for the highly invasive mining activity.
Francois du Toit, CEO of Project Africa, says: “Shale gas exploration is limited to large tracts of the Karoo but no one talks about the other forms of natural gas exploration being planned in other parts of the country.”
Project Africa plans to file objections to the four environmental authorisations recently granted to Rhino Oil And Gas Exploration South Africa.
“We shouldn’t just be talking about shale gas. That is a narrow definition and it enables its proponents to focus only on the Karoo when in actual fact the Karoo basin is a far cry from the potential for gas exploration in the country.
“And I do not believe the full cost of gas extraction is borne by the companies – it is borne by society. For instance, no gas exploration venture in the world has gone without some horrible accident.”
His case against the idea of fracking specifically was that it was largely unnecessary.
“Quite frankly if one asks about why we have fundamental resistance to fracking it’s that we can buy gas cheaply from Angola, Tanzania Mozambique or America.”
This would mean less risk to the underground water supply and could be done without any disruption to agriculture and tourism.
“Fracking is a very large-scale activity covering a very wide area and no one wants to come and visit South Africa to see that.”
Du Toit’s final issue with the companies that want to frack was that promised jobs were unlikely to materialise.
“Shell’s application says that it can create 300 000 to 700 000 jobs. We did our own research, consulted with the best science brains and we cannot find more that 3 000 jobs, of which 40% are suitable for South Africans. In the meantime, everybody is being promised jobs.”
But do the economic benefits of gas extraction outweigh the social and environmental risks? Free Market Foundation CEO Leon Louw was annoyed this was even still a debate.
“I consider (natural gas) a very necessary and appropriate energy source and it should be subject to the same rules as all of the others. It’s a mining activity and so it should be governed by the existing law. It does not need a special law. It’s like saying we shouldn’t mine platinum or gold, it’s a silly debate. We have adequate laws in place and there is no need for a new policy.”
The Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG) have a court date next year in which they will try to have the mineral resources department review its mining laws to better protect communities from the environmental effects of fracking before any licences are dished out.
Its founder, Johnathan Deal, believes that government giving fracking companies the go-ahead gave them ground to pursue urgent legal action before next year.
“Any activity under the current regulations, we feel, would be invalid and should not be allowed to go ahead. AfriForum and TKAG have a date in the high court next year with the department of mineral resources and we are asking the court to set aside the current fracking regulations,” said Deal.
Deal said if Rhino is allowed to explore and proceed with fracking, then it would set a “a dangerous precedent”.
Louw blamed the resistance from farming communities to fracking on the current legal framework concerning mining rights in general.
“The only reason why farmers object to fracking is that mineral rights are awarded on their land without compensation and it’s against the self-interest of any farmer for those mineral rights to be utilised.
“If farmers owned mineral rights they would be at the front row protecting the venture.” – firstname.lastname@example.org