Agri Eastern Cape supports campaign against Karoo shale gas exploration

DECEMBER 18, 2014

Agri Eastern Cape has reconfirmed its commitment to supporting its members who could be affected by potential shale gas exploration in the western Karoo.

According to Agri EC president Ernest Pringle, his organisation remained essentially opposed to exploratory hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in this water-scarce area unless certain basic prerequisites were met.

These included a comprehensive strategic environmental assessment by leading national and international geo-hydrology experts to determine the potential impact of this drilling method on the environment, said Pringle.

The organisation called for a scientific study into the sub-surface water structures to be conducted to determine whether this method of shale gas exploitation could be safely employed and, if so, to regulate the process properly.

Proposed regulatory measures would include the introduction of an internationally acceptable code of best practice, a new law and attendant regulations to deal specifically with the fracking process as well as the establishment of an independent regulator.

Pringle said Agri EC would provide political and financial support to those landowners who formed part of an anti-fracking legal consortium led by businessman Johan Rupert and Graaff-Reinet–based lawyer Derek Light.

“We are acting in support of our members who are the clients in this legal action.”

At this stage, he said, the action concerns mere enforcement of property rights by negotiation and that court action was not contemplated, although this might happen if such rights were infringed.

Pringle said more than 700 Agri EC members had signed the memorandum of understanding when the matter first arose in 2011 and that between 400 and 500 landowners were part of the legal action.

“In addition to fees already paid, we have approved a further sum to defray any legal costs they may incur in opposing fracking.”

According to Light, shale gas reserves in the Karoo could be depleted in less than 30 years and therefore did not form the basis of a sustainable economic activity at the expense of agriculture.

He said the granting of exploration licences to oil companies could take place as early as July.

But, said Light, the government, under pressure from the anti-fracking lobby, had already brought in certain legislative amendments and that new technical regulations under the National Environmental Management Act would be published in January.

In terms of the issuing of exploration rights under the new process, he said hydraulic fracturing would not be allowed but that “massively invasive drilling will be pursued”.

“We are going to take part in the new public participation process and comment and raise objections on behalf of our clients.”

Light said his firm would hold more consultations with interested and affected parties in the latter part of January and early February.

“It is now of the utmost importance that those landowners who remain committed to the process notify this office in writing with their commitment.”