Frackers a step closer to KZN

2016-06-15 13:01
There was toyi-toyiing and a picket outside the Greytown Lodge, the venue where a public consultation meeting was expected to be held to discuss the exploration of oil and gas.

There was toyi-toyiing and a picket outside the Greytown Lodge, the venue where a public consultation meeting was expected to be held to discuss the exploration of oil and gas. (Ian Carbutt)

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Pietermaritzburg - The possibility of the KZN Midlands being fracked increased on Tuesday with Rhino Oil and Gas being given the green light to start with the next stage in their process.

The Petroleum Agency of South ­Africa (Pasa) announced it had accepted Rhino’s scoping report, which allows the environmental impact assessment (EIA) to continue.

This does not mean permission to frack has yet been granted to Rhino to explore the province for gas.

African Conservation Trust environmental lobbying group director Francois du Toit said Rhino would still have to go through a series of processes until they were granted exploration rights.

Du Toit said it was still a “long process” with up to a year of desktop work, public participation meetings and tests on the impact the exploration could have on the environment and people.

He said environmental organisations would act as watchdogs to ensure the proper tests were conducted and ­communities understood the consequences of gas drilling.

The news comes after News24 ­reported on Monday that the viability of gas in the global economy was bleak.

“The cost of wind and solar power is falling too quickly for gas to ever ­dominate on a global scale,” according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

The article said that even ­“rock-bottom prices” for coal and natural gas would not “derail a rapid global transition towards renewable energy”.

Du Toit said that while analysts’ ­reports showed a shift away from gas and coal, South Africa was still moving in that direction with the acceptance of Rhino’s scoping report.

“South Africa is bucking ­international trends by allowing this process to take place despite the ­increasing reports showing the age of fossil fuels is over,” Du Toit said.

Bobby Peek, director of ­Pietermaritzburg environmental ­organisation groundWork, said the ­acceptance of the scoping report showed the “fool-hardy” environmental ­legislation South Africa had in place.

“The reality is that we are faced with the inability of the environmental ­process at government levels to protect society,” said Peek.

“Fossil fuels can be phased out, but because the economy is reliant on ­private companies investing in minerals and mining, gas will always trump ­renewable energy in South Africa.”

Peek added that there was no future for fossil fuels in South Africa and the country had the ability to generate solar energy.

World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF SA) policy and futures unit researcher James Reeler said it ­appeared that the international price of coal was dropping as a result of ­significant shifts in investment.

“That may be the writing on the wall, but it’s likely to continue for a number of years yet,” said Reeler.

“Broadly speaking, it is far from clear that fracking would be economically ­viable in the South African context.

“The scale of the resource is still unknown, and we lack much of the infrastructure that the U.S. had in place when their fracking revolution took off.

“This means that the costs will ­inevitably be higher, and the returns are uncertain.”

What was clear was that the water and environmental impacts of fracking would likely be “very problematic”.

“If South Africa applies environmental legislation such as the Water Act and the National Environmental Management Act appropriately, Rhino is going to have a serious uphill battle convincing investors of its viability,” he said.

Phillip Steyn, vice president and chief operating officer of Rhino Resources, said the exploration process would only commence upon the granting of the ­exploration right by the regulator, which would only happen once an environmental authorisation was granted.

Steyn said the evaluation process to determine if there are oil and gas resources available would take three years.

He added that the company had ­conducted meetings to inform residents of their plans for the region, and had ­received support from local ­communities and tribal leaders.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  environment  |  fracking

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