Green light for fracking premature, attorney says

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane File picture: Getty images
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane
Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s statement that fracking will be going ahead in the Karoo was premature and ignores two key challenges in the process, anti-fracking attorney Derek Light said yesterday.

Light – who represents 400 land-owners across the eastern, northern and western Cape – said it was also worrying that Zwane seemed to show no regard for the just published CSIR report that notes among other significant findings that there is insufficient water in the Karoo to sustain fracking.

Light was speaking to The Herald following Zwane’s statement on Thursday during a community engagement meeting on fracking in Richmond in the Northern Cape.

Zwane said government’s decision to go ahead with fracking was based on the “balance of available scientific evidence” and the “finalisation of Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act  amendments”.

But Light said the minister’s statement was simply a repetition of government’s already well known policy on fracking.

“His statement has no effect on the ongoing administrative legal pro/cess underway.”

The one key process relates to the formulation of regulations to manage fracking, he said.

“The proposed amendments have been published, but we have challenged them because, among other reasons, the mineral resources minister does not have the power to regulate the environmental aspects of fracking.”

The matter is to due to be heard by the High Court in Grahamstown on May 18.

The other key process relates to the exploration right applications  lodged by Falcon, Bundu and Shell which Light’s clients objected to in 2011, he said.

“If they are granted  we have a right of appeal to the minister of environmental affairs and  the right to have the decision reviewed by the High Court in the event that such an appeal should fail.”

“So the minister’s statement is premature.”

Light said it was also unfortunate that Zwane did not seem to have considered the two-year Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) strategic environmental assessment (SEA) completed in October 2016 and delivered to government last month.

The SEA was commissioned by Environmental Minister Edna Molewa after pressure from the anti-fracking lobby. Among its findings, it showed approximately 2750 jobs, with only 900 of them for local people, would be generated – not the “hundreds of thousands” of jobs promised by the fracking applicants.

It also found that the combined ground- and surface water available to Karoo communities was already insufficient for their needs and that there was not enough to sustain fracking.

Light said the hope from his clients was that the SEA would influence government policy and persuade them to reconsider their view on fracking.

“It’s pointless if government is going to ignore its own report and the minister’s remarks appear to do so.”

The one downfall of the otherwise impressive report was its brief was restricted to a review of existing knowledge and did not allow for new research, he said.

“This is contrary to what we had called for and it’s still something that is clearly needed and recognised by the authors of the SEA.”

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