Fracking worries abound

2012-02-04 14:36

A task team struggling to get to work, a possible threat to South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and scientists worried about the effect of fracking on water.

These are some of the concerns outlined in court papers filed by the Department of Mineral Resources in the North Gauteng High Court this week.

The papers were filed after the department was forced to submit an affidavit containing information about its fracking task team in response to an application by an environmental interest group.

Earlier this month the anti-fracking lobby organisation, Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG), tried to break through the department of mineral resources’ veil of secrecy on the task team when it won a court application that ordered Mining Minister Susan Shabangu to prepare an affidavit.

Shabangu set up the task team in April last year in response to pressure from activists and interest groups opposed to the fracking plan.

But, nearly a year later, the department’s court papers revealed that the team had done little work by August and was still organising meetings to discuss their work last year.

The papers also revealed that water pollution in the Karoo was a big worry for the Department of Water Affairs early in the team’s operations.

“I would like to state this firmly. There are serious issues for the Department of Water Affairs as to hydrofracking in the Karoo environment – especially with reference to the New Water Act,” said the department’s representative on the team, Dr Eddie van Wyk in an e-mail to other members of the group.

His e-mail was included among the department’s submission to the court.

“We should now start with negotiations on the way forward,” Van Wyk wrote.

Science Minister Naledi Pandor said in May last year that fracking would not be allowed to threaten the multi-billion dollar Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

The SKA is an instrument that will be 50 times more sensitive than today’s most powerful radio telescopes.

The e-mails submitted to the court this week show that Pandor’s department fought tooth and nail for better representation in the task team.

In August, court papers revealed, Science and Technology energy official Dr Velaphi Msimang wrote to the team asking why he was not involved.

The chair responded that they thought the SKA representative was representing Science and Technology.

The department only provided selected correspondence, a briefing document about who was on the panel and the task team’s terms of reference.

Shabangu refused to provide minutes and reports of the task team’s work, stating that she was not compelled by law to divulge information that was used to help formulate policy.

The task team’s working group consists of five members from PetroSA, a deputy director general from the department of minerals and energy that specialises in policy, a member each from the Council of Geoscience and Department of Energy, a member of the Department of Science and Technology, three members from water affairs and a deputy director general from environmental affairs.

It is chaired by PetroSA’s CEO Xiphu Mthozami Xiphu.

The department this week refused to comment on its submission or the task team’s work, saying it would wait until the task team report had been released by Cabinet.

TKAG’s Jonathan Deal said the group was still conferring with its lawyers about whether it was in the public interest to bring another application to get more details.

“The e-mails showed the team only got going in the last four-and-a-half months. This means they have five-and-a-half months to produce a report, whereas the US has set aside at least four years for (similar) investigations,” he said.

The story so far:
The government’s fracking task team was supposed to have reported back to Cabinet last year, but the project has been hit with delays:

» 2010: Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Falcon Oil & Gas Ltd, and Bundu Oil & Gas apply to the Department of Mineral Resources for fracking rights

» January 2011: Treasure the Karoo Action Group starts lobbying against fracking

» April 2011: Mining Minister Susan Shabangu institutes a moratorium again fracking and sets up a task team to investigate the issues

» June/July 2011: Task team starts organising

August 2011: Shabangu requests a draft report from the task team and extends the moratorium for another six months

» February 2012: Task team is expected to finish their work at the end of the month

» March 2012: Cabinet will study the task team’s report before releasing it to the public

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