Why oppose fracking in South Africa in 2015?


In the shadow of fracking exploration in South Africa

A synopsis for interested and affected South Africans

 

For more than four years, South Africans (those who follow the media) have been exposed to a media-driven debate on shale gas mining (fracking). Driven largely by Royal Dutch Shell and then Shell South Africa, the public has been exposed to false advertising and simple lies by the applicants to mine shale gas. The government has mismanaged this debate and its concomitant decision on behalf of South Africans in the most appalling manner. Quite apart from the fact that the ANC, as of January 2015, has an increased shareholding and interests in Shell South Africa, the Zuma administration permitted and even encouraged the previous Minister of Minerals, Ms. Susan Shabangu to sidestep the instructions of Cabinet, ignore any voices of dissent in the country and present, in September 2012, a so-called task team report on fracking that roundly fails to grasp even the rudimentary aspects and risks of the technology. At the time that the task team report pronounced fracking safe, not a single South African medical specialist had been included in the task team.

 

In early 2014 President Zuma, at least 18 months before even preliminary exploration commenced, announced as if by some divine revelation, that fracking would be an economic game-changer for South Africa.

 

Meanwhile, around the world, the list of countries, states, provinces, cities and towns that are banning fracking or at least exposing it to some form of government moratorium or restriction is growing. In just December 2014 and January 2015, New York State, Scotland and the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada have banned fracking, and Algeria has imposed a 7 year moratorium. Maryland is soon to vote on an 8-year moratorium. Notably, in the home country of Shell’s head office (the Netherlands), 71% of the Dutch Parliament placed fracking under an effective moratorium until 2017. The Canadian and NYS bans are especially interesting as they cited two main reasons – water pollution and health concerns; and the failure of shale gas mining to deliver the benefits promised by the industry.

 

Against this background, ANC Ministers faithfully recite figures of jobs and revenue extracted from the Econometrix Report paid for by Shell SA and released in 2012. Notwithstanding the fact that the figures derived from the Econometrix report ignore any of the environmental and secondary costs of fracking such as impacts on eco-system services, farming and tourism (the model applied has been formally criticized by other economists) no one from Shell or our government has rectified the disparity between the 485tcf of gas and the acknowledged best case by South African Scientists of around 30tcf. This is a reduction of 13 times. Yet the 700 000 Shell jobs – based on a percentage of the 485tcf is still touted by Shell and the government.

 

Global estimates of gas resources stem primarily from two sources – the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in the US and that country’s USGS (United States Geological Survey). Almost without exception the first ‘estimated’ gas reserves around the globe have proven to be roundly and routinely overstated. It was the EIA that estimated 18 billion barrels of shale oil from the Monterey Shale in California. This sparked a fierce debate in that State with Governor Jerry Brown vowing to pursue and extract the resource (much like President Zuma in SA). Even President Obama counted ‘at least 100 years of US energy from shale gas’. Less than 24 months later, the EIA had to admit their mistake and slash the reserve by 96%. Similarly, the Marcellus shale was slashed by hundreds of TCF.

 

So, a clear picture is emerging in the global marketing of shale gas by the powerful oil and gas industry and their allies in governments around the world. Overstate the benefits to desperate governments. Promise energy, jobs, money and a false reduction of greenhouse gases. Once the momentum has built up and established a political will, use it to influence policy whilst ignoring science.

 

In South Africa, our government, far from serving the people in this matter, is playing lapdog to Shell, while Falcon, Chevron and Challenger Energy tag along. World-class reports, (such as the Canadian Report) hand-delivered to our President, and to every MEC and Premier of every province are ignored. Public consultation by the government around the holistic concept of shale gas mining has not yet taken place in any form. Draft regulations on fracking, which were open for comment for 30 calendar days in 2013 were slammed by US scientists as ‘pathetic’. Although there has been no feedback from the government on TKAG’s 800 page submission, the government has promised to release ‘final’ fracking regulations ‘soon’.

 

Our Bill of Rights and National Environmental Management Act are unequivocal on the issues of environment. Yet, the deck remains stacked against science.

 

The government has instructed applicants (Shell, Falcon and Bundu) to remove any mention of fracking from their Environmental Management Plans, and so the new round of public consultation becomes focused on ‘exploration techniques only’ – no mention of fracking. This is misleading and disingenuous – but it permits the companies to get the process started and most likely to receive a rapid transition from ’no fracking in exploration until later notice’ to using fracking in exploration – and then a smooth roll-over into full scale production.

 

Those who are opposing fracking in South Africa under the present circumstances are thus pushed into a corner. We can stand back and permit the tableau to play itself out – or we can take action. A solution to halting this headlong game-changer, game-changer rush of the government is for landowners to stand together. Even when the applicants are armed with an ‘exploration licence’ there are many administrative and legal hurdles facing them. A company armed with an exploration licence may not summarily enter your land, for any purpose. They have to consult with you at your convenience and negotiate access and a land-use agreement or similar accord.

 

You can help to balance the skewed scales by:

  1. Demanding identification and a letter of authority/resolution from the person approaching on behalf of the applicant.
  2. Refusing access to the farm and referring them to your lawyer.
  3. Taking your time – their schedule is not your schedule – you are entitled to be fully aware of the import of each and every clause and condition and all of the possible negative effects on your operation.
  4. Putting them to terms about who will pay for baseline tests on your water, vegetation, livestock and staff health before any access and activity takes place.
  5. Putting them to terms on who will pay your attorney costs to represent your interests in this matter (why should you pay to research something that you don’t even want on your farm and which brings you no profit but only risk to your land value?)

The key to this exercise, and the fundamental aim is to level the playing field – not be dishonest or deceitful. This is a straightforward, morally sound and legal remedy to a situation that is fraught with lies from industry and conflicts of interest in the very institution that should be protecting, instead of disadvantaging the food producers of South Africa.

I hope that this synopsis has convinced you of what needs to be done, and I pray that you will stand up and stand together as a group to resist those who wish to rush shale gas mining into this country.

Solidarity. For sustainability, truth and a future beyond the coffers of the ANC, Shell and foreign mining companies.

 

 

Jonathan Deal

February 2015

 

 

Karoo advocacy group in gear for government consultations


Public consultation and participation around fracking is just one of the facets in which the SA Government has failed its citizens. Treasure Karoo Action Group is continually on top of this vital issue.

DMR pages 1-3

DMR pages 1-3-1

DMR pages 1-3-2

SA fracking call in global media


The call for a moratorium on fracking in SA has been picked up by the international press. Reuters, Bloomberg, Kuwait, Forbes and Petro Global News, amongst others, have picked up and reported on the story.

Anti-fracking groups threaten South Africa exploration
Image courtesy of RT via YouTube

Anti-fracking groups threaten South Africa exploration

South African anti-fracking groups are threatening a preemptive injunction against exploratory drilling if the nation’s government does not place a moratorium on exploration licenses for the desert region of Karoo within 30 days, Reuters reported.

Last year, Royal Dutch Shell applied for an exploration license covering more than 95,000 square kilometers (59,000 square miles), almost a quarter of the Karoo.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that South Africa has about 390 trillion cubic meters (13.77 trillion cubic feet) of technically recoverable reserves.

Shell has three pending exploration license applications, and Falcon Oil and Gas Ltd. and Bundu Gas & Oil each have one, according to the EIA.

In 2012, Chevron signed a five-year deal with Falcon Oil to explore the southern Karoo Basin.

Advocate Paul Hoffman writes on shale gas alliance


Useful alliance may bring sanity in scramble for Karoo

BY PAUL HOFFMAN, JULY 23 2014, 07:20
Hydraulic fracturing drilling in Colorado, US. Picture: THINKSTOCK

Hydraulic fracturing drilling in Colorado, US. Picture: THINKSTOCK

A NOVEL but functional alliance has arisen between AfriForum and the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG). The similarity in acronym with the better-known TAC (Treatment Action Campaign) grouping that succeeded in weaning the government off HIV/AIDS denialism and into the state supply of antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive patients is not a coincidence. The TKAG is prepared, unlike many green-oriented organisations, to keep an open mind on difficult questions, and raise them pertinently and patiently with those in positions of authority with a view to getting accountable answers to legitimate queries. In alliance with AfriForum, it is here for the long haul.

The TKAG was formed around concerns that fracking in the Karoo, in search of potentially valuable shale gas, could have environmentally disastrous effects, especially on the aquifer under the surface of the Karoo.

It is worth noting in the context of the fracking debate that Total, the French oil company, has decided not to become involved in fracking at all at any time and in any location. This is a matter other oil companies ought to take into account and ponder carefully in their forward planning.

There remain a number of candidates in the field in South Africa that are still keen to prospect for shale gas in the Karoo and, apparently, elsewhere. The government is actively encouraging this new energy source on the basis that it will create jobs, save foreign exchange and give a welcome boost to the economy. In successive state of the nation addresses, President Jacob Zuma has let it be known that shale gas exploitation is regarded as a “game-changer” by the government.

Fortunately for those less than overwhelmed by the upside of fracking, the government cannot simply take a decision to proceed with fracking on its own whim. The fundamental and salutary difference between the old Ssouth Africa and the new South Africa is that politicians can no longer do as they please. Under the new dispensation, the activities of the executive and legislative spheres of the government are constrained by the constitution. The rule of law is regarded as supreme and any law or conduct that is inconsistent with the constitution is invalid.

That is why the alliance between AfriForum and TKAG is so useful to the best interests of the country. The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of everybody to an environment that is not harmful to health and wellbeing. This is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

The provisions go on to specify that protection of the environment is for the benefit of present and future generations via the use of reasonable legislative and other measures designed to prevent pollution and environmental degradation. The securing of ecologically sustainable development and the use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development are the prescribed constraints on any government keen to embark on a new way of using natural resources such as the shale gas that may or may not be available under the surface of the Karoo in exploitable quantities extractable without environmental harm.

The question now is whether the state is observing the constraints upon it in its eagerness to get into fracking and the exploitation of the shale gas that may be found when the frackers explore for it.

A new development in Canada, where fracking is not unknown, has thrown a major spanner in the works of those who wish to frack in South Africa. The Canadian government commissioned a comprehensive report on the ins and outs of fracking using the services of the brightest and best scientists at its disposal. The report, not to put too fine a point on it, is damning of the practice of fracking, its utility and its economic viability. This report has been presented to the South African authorities by AfriForum and TKAG. The authorities ignore its detailed contents at their peril — not only because of the environmental aspects of the Bill of Rights, but also because the constitution prescribes a high standard of professional ethics in the public administration.

The wording of section 195(1)(e) is particularly applicable in the circumstances that have developed around fracking issues. The section prescribes, as values and principles according to which the public administration must be governed, that “people’s needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policy making”. The next subsection emphasises the importance of accountability.

Fracking has set off to a less than auspicious start when it comes to compliance with these requirements of our supreme law, which are ignored on pain of having conduct and laws struck down as invalid. A farcical public participation process in the Karoo, conducted exclusively in American English by foreign consultants in isolated areas in which the English language, as it is known in South Africa, is little understood and seldom spoken, was tried and then abandoned on the pretext that the remaining (majority of) people left out of the process would respond with equal incomprehension, disbelief and anger at the idea of the pillage of their heritage in the interests of making a quick buck on the proceeds of the sale of shale gas.

The efforts at public participation of the commercial applicants chasing the necessary permission to prospect, were equally puny. One sporting outfit asked (this is what happens when one cuts and pastes) for permission to prospect in “the Greater Johannesburg area”. There is enough trouble there with acid mine drainage already, without further complications arising from the activities of those who seek permission to frack.

The draft regulations on fracking have been subjected to scrutiny of about 600 pages by those concerned about the legality, constitutionality, sustainability and viability of engaging in an activity that could forever pollute the underground water of the Karoo, a special part of the family silver of the nation. The government has yet to respond to the matters raised in the objections to the draft regulations, which span a multitude of errors, omissions, ambiguities and contradictions. Any failure to deal responsively, openly and accountably with the objections lays the government open to a legal attack for want of compliance with the foundational values of our constitutional order.

TKAG and AfriForum have let it be known that they will not be ignored. They suggest, wisely so, that the moratorium on exploration be reinstated and that, until the Canadian study is assessed fully against local conditions in SA, there be no “game-changing” plans made to get on with fracking in a situation in which angels would fear to tread. They have drawn the government’s attention to a congressionally mandated study in the US that is reaching finality after five years of intensive research, but has yet to be published.

It is not too much to ask of our government to avoid rushing in for the sake of the agricultural and tourism activities in the affected areas. An ill-considered approach, such as the now rescinded acquisition of a 25% stake holding by the African National Congress in Hitachi Power Africa, is not indicated. The objectors have the clout, the wherewithal and the experience to ensure that if there is to be any fracking in SA, it will be done in a constitutionally compliant fashion. It may just be easier and better for all concerned to look more carefully at our plentiful clean and renewable sources of energy that remain unexploited, perhaps because they are clean in more than one sense.

•Hoffman is a director of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa.

SA Government handling of shale gas issue – ‘inept’


Fracking process marred by ‘ineptitude’

Jul 23 2014 07:55

(Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)

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Johannesburg – An anti-fracking group threatened a legal challenge on Tuesday to government plans to grant shale gas exploration licences in the pristine semi-desert of the Karoo, saying the regulatory process had been marked by “patent ineptitude”.In a February State of the Nation address, PresidentJacob Zuma described shale gas as a “game changer” for the economy and said Pretoria would allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, “within the framework of our good environmental laws”.

The government had been expected to publish regulations overseeing shale exploration before an election in May this year although there is still no sign of the rules.

Fracking involves digging wells up to 4 km deep and pumping in large amounts of water and chemicals under high pressure to crack the shale rock and release the gas. In a dry region such as the Karoo, in the middle of the country, any change in water use causes concern.

Green groups wanting to protect the Karoo, believed to hold significant shale gas deposits, said Pretoria was incapable of ensuring firms such as Royal Dutch Shell, at the forefront of the fracking push, would adhere to the rules.

They accused the energy companies of already drawing up slip-shod environmental plans and failing to consult communities and landowners, violating fundamental property rights.

“The environmental management plans are fatally flawed,” Jonathan Deal, head of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG), told a news conference.

“The state is not ready to manage either exploration or production.”

If the government failed to heed TKAG’s call for a moratorium on exploration licences within 30 days, the group would seek a pre-emptive injunction blocking them and was prepared to go to the Constitutional Court, he added.

Deal declined to reveal TKAG’s backers although Cartier billionaire Johann Rupert, South Africa’s richest man and a major Karoo landowner, told Reuters last year he was prepared to fund a challenge as far as necessary.

The Department of Mineral Resources did not comment. Shell said it was committed to following government regulations and listening to the views of Karoo residents.

The first formal interest in shale gas in the Karoo began in 2008, with an application for exploration rights by Bundu Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of Australia’s Challenger Energy.

The issue hit the headlines three years later, when Shell applied for an exploration licence covering more than 95,000 square km, almost a quarter of the Karoo. An outcry from farmers led to a moratorium on the granting of licences.

The basis for Shell’s pro-fracking argument is a U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) assessment of 390 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable reserves, about two-thirds of deposits estimated in the United States.

Such quantities, if realised, could have a huge impact on an economy that has always been a big oil and gas importer. However, Deal cited other studies that estimated reserves at less than 10 percent of the EIA assessment.

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Reuters curious about TKAG legal purse


S.African anti-fracking group threatens legal challenge

Source: Reuters – Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:50 GMT

Author: Reuters
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By Ed Cropley

JOHANNESBURG, July 22 (Reuters) – A South African anti-fracking group threatened a legal challenge on Tuesday to government plans to grant shale gas exploration licences in the pristine semi-desert of the Karoo, saying the regulatory process had been marked by “patent ineptitude”.

In a February State of the Nation address, President Jacob Zuma described shale gas as a “game changer” for the economy and said Pretoria would allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, “within the framework of our good environmental laws”.

The government had been expected to publish regulations overseeing shale exploration before an election in May this year although there is still no sign of the rules.

Fracking involves digging wells up to 4 km deep and pumping in large amounts of water and chemicals under high pressure to crack the shale rock and release the gas. In a dry region such as the Karoo, in the middle of the country, any change in water use causes concern.

Green groups wanting to protect the Karoo, believed to hold significant shale gas deposits, said Pretoria was incapable of ensuring firms such as Royal Dutch Shell, at the forefront of the fracking push, would adhere to the rules.

They accused the energy companies of already drawing up slip-shod environmental plans and failing to consult communities and landowners, violating fundamental property rights.

“The environmental management plans are fatally flawed,” Jonathan Deal, head of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG), told a news conference.

“The state is not ready to manage either exploration or production.”

If the government failed to heed TKAG’s call for a moratorium on exploration licences within 30 days, the group would seek a pre-emptive injunction blocking them and was prepared to go to the Constitutional Court, he added.

Deal declined to reveal TKAG’s backers although Cartier billionaire Johann Rupert, South Africa’s richest man and a major Karoo landowner, told Reuters last year he was prepared to fund a challenge as far as necessary.

The Department of Mineral Resources did not comment. Shell said it was committed to following government regulations and listening to the views of Karoo residents.

The first formal interest in shale gas in the Karoo began in 2008, with an application for exploration rights by Bundu Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of Australia’s Challenger Energy.

The issue hit the headlines three years later, when Shell applied for an exploration licence covering more than 95,000 square km, almost a quarter of the Karoo. An outcry from farmers led to a moratorium on the granting of licences.

The basis for Shell’s pro-fracking argument is a U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) assessment of 390 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable reserves, about two-thirds of deposits estimated in the United States.

Such quantities, if realised, could have a huge impact on an economy that has always been a big oil and gas importer. However, Deal cited other studies that estimated reserves at less than 10 percent of the EIA assessment. (Reporting by Ed Cropley, editing by David Evans)