12/03/2014 – ACDP calls on government to urgently do Environmental Impact, Social and Health Assessment

ACDP Parliament
Media Statement
Cheryllyn Dudley, MP and Whip

 

ACDP calls on government to urgently do Environmental Impact, Social and Health Assessment

 

·        Lack of public awareness and consultation – ACDP expected far greater effort and opportunity to be provided to thoroughly investigate all issues related to shale gas in South Africa before the regulations decided

·        While hearings have been promised, the Presidents statement in the State of the Nation Address indicates that decisions have been taken already

·        Without Health impact assessments developments are both premature and cause for concern

 

“Having evaluated the risks and opportunities, the final regulations will be released soon and will be followed by the processing and granting of liscences. The development of petroleum, especially shale gas, will be a game-changer for the Karoo region and the South African Economy”. President Jacob Zuma – State of the Nation Address 13 February 2014

The ACDP has consistently called on the Minister to give careful consideration to community concerns and recommendations and to ensure on-going communication and consultation with stakeholders as the process of considering ‘fracking’ as an acceptable mining technique in South Africa, moves forward.

Lack of public awareness around the issue and lack of public consultation seems to be the present reality. The ACDP expected far greater effort and opportunity to be provided to thoroughly investigate all issues related to shale gas in South Africa before the regulations would be decided. On noting the drafting of regulations a few months ago the ACDP called on members of Parliament to ensure that Public hearings are accessible and that concerns and recommendations are taken seriously.  We realised and said at the time that this was going to be a challenge for the ANC as decisions seemed to have already been taken – at least to some degree. If hearings are not taken seriously the resulting actions could of course be challenged in the constitutional court – in this situation however costs and inconvenience may not be a deterrent.

The ACDP recognises that Government does have a responsibility to ensure energy security, and shale gas does provide the country with a potential opportunity to reindustrialise the South African economy.  It is however a contentious issue and the pros and cons must be carefully weighed by all stake holders and especially the communities concerned.

A major reason for the ACDP taking a cautionary stance regarding the process pushing ahead without adequate consultation – is that under the MPRDA – or at least the last version before recent amendments – it appears to be very easy to have an exploration right converted into a production right – which would allow for full scale production. Once companies have invested money in exploration and sufficient gas/oil has been discovered, it will be a lot more difficult to stop the process and deny exploitation – if that is ultimately what communities want.

The ACDP shares concerns raised by civil society that the government task team – that was formed in 2011 tasked with investigating fracking – lacked representation from various key departments that would directly be affected by shale gas mining. These departments include the departments of Health, Agriculture, Tourism, Rural Development and Land Reform etc.

Since key variables and uncertainties have not been resolved or even sufficiently defined in the task team report, the publishing of the draft regulations in October 2013 was sadly premature. The result is that the regulations are insufficient in terms of dealing with several critical issues such as waste treatment and disposal, environmental assessments and public consultation.  They are based on the principles of the American Petroleum Institute (API) – an industry trade association – not a government body or even legally binding principles.  Science should inform policy but does not appear to have informed public policy around this issue in South Africa.

The ACDP did welcome the declaration by the Department of Water that fracking as an activity will require a water use license before it can lawfully commence, we saw this as an indication that the Department of Water was not taking the issue lightly and intended ensuring a high degree of control and oversight with regard to fracking.

At the same time we understood the go-ahead for globally benchmarked technical regulations for the exploration and exploitation of shale gas in South Africa’s Karoo region as imperative to ensure clear guidelines that would apply to both onshore and offshore activities to ensure that all petroleum exploration and exploitation meet with the highest global standards.

A comprehensive international benchmarking exercise, we were told, had been carried out by six government departments, including Water, Environmental Affairs and Science and Technology, to ensure that hydraulic fracturing – or fracking as it is often called – does not negatively impact fresh water resources, biodiversity and palaeontology and provides buffer zones to shield specific sites.  Fracture fluids and structures to be used in the hydraulic fracturing process would have to be fully disclosed and depleted ‘well areas’ fully rehabilitated.

Many things have been predicted re ‘fracking’ including that:

·       shale gas is affordable, abundant and environmentally acceptable

·       8 million people in SA without electricity will have power

·       Just 10% of South Africa’s reserves will bring 700 000 permanent jobs

·       It will contribute between 3.3 and 9% of GDP
No government in their right mind would ignore such claims – however indications are that shale gas is not so affordable and is not proving to lower global emissions in any hurry elsewhere. As far as electricity and jobs go it may or may not be misleading – as is said to be the case in some parts of the USA – gains will however come at a cost – including damage to roads, high infrastructure spending, displacement of agriculture, air, soil and water pollution, toxic waste management, governments inability to manage this industry and itself, health, policing, monitoring etc.  A need for high skilled foreign workers initially and the possible displacement of lower-skilled jobs is another consideration.

In the final analysis – what people have to say about their own futures is what really counts – especially those people living in affected communities.  Our responsibility is to ensure people have access to the information needed to make an informed decision – but it must be about the people who stand to gain or lose the most and whether or not they want to take the risks or not.

Energy demand in South Africa will of course increase in years to come – for many reasons – starting with population growth and our National Development Plan.  Apart from a recognised need to transition to renewable energy, trade-offs are inevitable and we need to know more with regard to Health, agricultural, water and social impacts.  The ACDP calls on government to urgently do the necessary Environmental Impact, Social and Health Assessment which must include cultural and religious issues.

The ACDP notes that if exploration for shale gas using horizontal fracturing techniques were to be accepted in South Africa – the need for an Independent Watch-dog regulatory body made up of competent people who understand the science of ‘hydraulic fracturing’ would of course be essential.  We are stressing however, that this should not be a fore-gone conclusion and that the process needs to be slowed down to ensure decisions are fully informed and influenced by those who will live with the consequences.

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