The DA has taken note of the government’s announcement today that the moratorium on exploring for shale gas has been lifted. The issue of shale gas hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, has rightfully generated a huge debate in South Africa with both sides passionately putting forward the case both for and against fracking.
The DA maintains that we have to proceed cautiously on this issue as the potential benefits in terms of job creation, cheaper energy and increased government revenue needs to be constantly weighed against the potential threats to our agricultural sector, water resources and environmental integrity of the Karoo, and other potentially affected areas.
Evidence we have gleaned from countries where fracking is taking place persuades us that it is possible to harvest gas through hydraulic fracturing with low adverse impacts, provided that certain stringent conditions are put in place. There are examples across the globe of both responsible fracking activities that have delivered real benefits to countries and communities and examples of where poor planning, lack of regulations and enforcement have generated a raft of environmental problems.
Unfortunately if this government’s record in mining is anything to go by, fracking is unlikely to be conducted according to best practice unless it is at the initiative of the companies conducting it. Government oversight of environmental damage is historically extremely poor. Many mining operations have been allowed to proceed while causing unacceptable damage to the environment. The current problem with acid mine drainage on the Witwatersrand is the best example of this. There is little in this government’s record to therefore assure us that exploration and drilling would be done properly.
Given the government’s history of tenderpreneurship and the high value of the expected investments from companies in fracking, rigorous anti-corruption and transparency measures must be enforced.
The DA believes it is vital that if fracking is to go ahead, then it must be done according to a set of best practice guidelines based on lessons learnt from around the world. These would include:
Fracking is done in accordance with land use planning by local and provincial authorities. Local input from communities on planning permission is vital.
Shafts are set at an agreed distance from agricultural and commercial buildings and worksites.
Water for test holes is either brought in, or prudent use of the aquifer is agreed on with land owners and the concurrence of environmental and water authorities.
There is an agreed and monitored protocol for ensuring the integrity of shaft casings. This is arrived at through negotiations with prospecting companies and with reference to international best practice.
There must be full disclosure of chemical substances used in fracking. Where feasible these must be non-toxic.
All water exiting drill shafts is collected and cleaned so as not to pollute surface or ground water resources.
Roads damaged by prospecting or extraction operations must be returned to the state they were in prior to the operations commencing either by being fixed or paid for by the companies involved.
All contraventions of regulations or legislation by the operating companies must be revealed to the public by the company involved.
Dust, and, where practically possible, noise must be controlled.
Pipelines and wellheads are designed with regard to environmental and aesthetic standards.
Appropriate legislation and monitoring must be put in place by national government. There must be tough penalties for contravention.
In our efforts to secure these minimum standards we will call the Departments of Mineral Resources and Water to Parliament and thoroughly interrogate their approach to these and other issues. The DA firmly believes that the promised benefits of shale gas can only be realised if the government finally takes its responsibilities to the environment seriously and does not allow the same kind of abuses we have seen in the mining sector to go unchecked.
In addition, it is important that the fracking report produced by the task team during the moratorium is released for public scrutiny.