- 4 Sep 2013
- Pretoria News
- Donwald Pressly
Water to be more tightly regulated
Fracking controls planned
THE GOVERNMENT’S intention to restrict water rights to the commercial agriculture sector while applying strict rules to the granting of water licences to the proposed induced gas industry has been greeted with a mixture of caution and adulation.
Water and Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told a media briefing yesterday that she had gazetted hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as “a controlled activity”, while she also stated the government’s intention to nationalise water resources. The latter is up for public consultation.
Molewa explained that the controlled activity would require firms seeking natural gas in the Karoo underground shale to apply for a licence. “It becomes a water use, requiring a water use licence.”
Effectively her department would be given a gate-keeping role in the fracking process because it can place conditions on the use of foreign substances “and chemicals” used during the extraction process.
While Treasure the Karoo Action Group chief executive Jonathan Deal welcomed the step, saying the regulation would place an important policing mechanism on hydraulic fracturing that had not been there before, the Karoo Shale Gas Community Forum’s Chris Nissen declared Deal’s stance as “opportunistic”.
The proposal for licensing had been contained in the National Development Plan proposals “all along”, said Nissen, who leads community groups favouring shale gas extraction by fracking.
Meanwhile, Deputy Agriculture Minister Pieter Mulder said he was concerned that the government was racing ahead with its “resource nationalism” intentions. His party, the Freedom Front Plus, has come out strongly against fracking.
He believed there was a trend to centralise government control of water resources and there was a bias against white commercial farmers who were incorrectly viewed as having a monopolistic grip on water resources. “However, I don’t understand this… farms come with water,” he said.
Molewa’s warning that a “use it or lose it” principle would apply in future was also concerning. Many farmers only used half of the water resources on their farms, he said.
If strict controls were placed on water usage, including suggested water metres being placed on irrigation systems in agricultural areas, it could lead to farmers deliberately using more water than they required to avoid losing their surplus supply. He said much of farmers’ water resources were underground.
But Molewa said that agriculture had rights to 62 percent of all water supplies. At present 98 percent of all water usage was already allocated, which she and chief director in the water department Deborah Mochotlhi, argued was restricting economic growth.
New industries such as water-thirsty platinum mining in Limpopo, for example, did not have a guaranteed water supply. This had a ripple effect on the industry and job creation.
Nissen agreed it was necessary to end the farmers’ monopoly on water rights. Instead there should be thinking out of the box about water shortages in such places as the Karoo.
He suggested that the Gariep River be diverted to feed the potential gas fields around Cradock and Graaff-Reinet. He said the river was already used to feed the Sundays River valley, which was now water-rich.
Molewa is also proposing the establishment of nine provincial water utilities to be called “regional water utilities”. They would “address water infrastructure development and maintenance needs in an area”.
DA water affairs spokeswoman Marti Wenger said fracking had the potential to create thousands of jobs and thus “we cannot just reject it out of hand”. However, there had to be a balance between what was right for the environment and defending the rights of employment for the people in the Karoo through fracking. page 17