ANC, DA both support fracking

THE writing is on the wall for the anti-fracking lobby, with both the ANC and the DA in favour of shale gas exploration. Both the ANC's election manifesto, released last weekend, and the DA's policy on natural resources, compiled last month, give the green light to shale gas exploration.

But while the ANC is set to go full steam ahead with hydraulic fracturing, the DA has advocated a more cautious route.

In the section of the ANC manifesto dealing with promoting energy self-sufficiency, it states "the pace of oil and gas exploration – including shale gas exploration – by the state and other players in the industry will be intensified as part of the country's effort to ensure national self-sufficiency and energy security while promoting environmental sustainability".

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The DA's policy on "natural resources: environmental affairs, fisheries, water management and mineral resources" deals with hydraulic fracturing in a more conservative manner by stating that it "should only proceed if stringent control measures are imposed to govern and regulate all actions and decisions regarding fracking".

It proposes transparency about what chemicals are used in the process, outlining rules for companies participating in exploration and specifying how transgressions of the rules will be dealt with.

The DA says an appropriate balance must be found between what is right for the environment and what is right for unemployed people through measures such as curbing corruption and ensuring that penalties are imposed for public infrastructure damage. The party also suggests water "exiting drill shafts is collected and cleaned so as not to pollute surface or ground water resources".

Rhodes University geologist Professor Annette Gotz said regulations for hydraulic fracturing were very strict to ensure that groundwater resources were not polluted, and monitoring formed a part of the drilling process. She said exploration had to start as soon as possible to finally know what potential the Karoo had.

"Shale gas exploration will play a key role in the future global energy mix," Gotz said. "The most important point is to estimate the potential of the Karoo Basin. A study on world shale reserves conducted by the Energy Information Agency in 2011 concluded that there could be as much as 485 trillion cubic feet of shale gas there. However, the true extent and commercial viability is still unknown, due to the lack of exploration drilling and modern 3D seismic tests being done."

Treasure Karoo Action Group director of operations Jeanie le Roux said the anti- fracking lobby group strongly disagreed with the position outlined in the ANC's manifesto and that, along with Afriforum, their legal preparation had advanced significantly and they were ready to respond if the government proceeded with exploration under the current circumstances.

"The ANC's position appears to be a case of blatant electioneering and a vote- gathering exercise at the expense of current and future generations and sustainability," Le Roux said.

"The ANC's position seems to be based on misinformation received from those with a vested interest to see fracking proceed in SA. We support the more cautious and sensible stance of the DA to only support shale gas [exploration] if it can be proven that it can be extracted in a safe manner."