Much to the chagrin of Royal Dutch Shell, other applicants for shale exploration licences and their friends in government and industry in SA, the ongoing delay in settling the question of shale gas extraction in SA is working to the benefit of the nation.
Simply because the lack of information, transparency, effective public information and consultation in SA, has created a situation in which licences would have been issued in a virtual vacuum of information. This is not to say that the government is necessarily uninformed, but rather that certain pro-gas players in the government were and are prepared to overlook the global issues connected with shale gas mining. It is not in the interests of the nation to be committed to a decision of this magnitude simply on the basis of the marketing hype of the oil and gas industry.
What does a delay in the issuing of licences mean?
It is providing a real opportunity for important facts about shale gas mining in other countries to reach South Africans. On a daily basis the media and various organisations are publishing reports in connection with shale gas, and the news is overwhelmingly negative. The Oil and Gas industry is spending significant amounts of cash on lobbying governments and industry but appear to be failing in their bid to counter negative information about the controversial practice of shale gas mining.
What is a topical example of the ‘negative reports’ referred to?
Here are three:
1. At least 210 bans, moratoria or restrictions on the holistic shale gas mining process or on sections of it are recorded as being in place and enforced in various countries, regions, states, cities and towns around the world. These are increasing, as many legislative anti-fracking measures are still under consideration at the request of local communities.
2. A recent report (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcam4aBmPs4) published by Associated Press has alleged contamination of water in four US States. This report is being widely redistributed via global media.
3. By way of example of the volume of media reports on shale gas mining, I have recorded via a media monitoring service 9447 consolidated reports mentioning fracking. A rough average of the number of media articles per report is around four. That is somewhere in the order of 40 000 articles on fracking in an eleven month period from February 20 2013. I am not forwarding this as a claim that there are 40 000 negative articles about shale gas mining, merely making the point that this is indicative of the volume of information and perhaps disinformation connected to the technology. It establishes in my view, a clear requirement for the commencement of a planned Strategic Environmental Assessment of the technology in South Africa.
The government and the applicants are well aware that to give effect to the perhaps ill-timed promises of various Ministers and officials ‘to push ahead with shale gas’ without taking heed of international developments will expose them to significant risk of lawsuits.
It really is time for the SA Government to step up to the plate and stop being led around by the nose by Shell.