Anti-fracking lobby slowly gaining momentum in KZN

2016-02-24 10:41
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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The anti-fracking lobby is slowly gaining momentum after yet another large ­portion of the province prepares for a ­future of gas and oil exploration.

Last week Rhino Oil and Gas­ Exploration South Africa officially announced its intention to explore over 3,2 million hectares of land in Northern KwaZulu-Natal affecting areas such as Ulundi, Melmoth, Pongola, Newcastle and Vryheid.

The company is currently seeking rights to explore two sites in the Free State, the Eastern Cape and two sites in KZN, including Pietermaritzburg and its surrounds.

In total the company, whose corporate office is based in the British Virgin Islands — a known tax haven with high levels of secrecy — is seeking a right to explore almost 7,4 million hectares of land in South Africa, of which more than half is in KwaZulu-Natal.

These areas all fall within the Karoo ­Basin geographic area of South Africa.

Seven public meetings are expected to begin in the northern parts of the ­province next week.

But, to date Rhino has received a hostile welcome, particularly in the ­uMgungun­dlovu district and surrounds at a series of public meetings which have prompted the creation, and growth, of a strong anti-fracking lobby.

Francios du Toit, CEO of African ­Conservation Trust and part of Frack Free SA, said they are demanding a moratorium on any exploration until further studies have been done.

“We are clear. We are against fracking. Currently there is a moratorium in the ­Karoo on any further exploration and we demand that this be spread across the country until a strategic environmental assessment is done,” said Du Toit.

He said Frack Free are eager to take their cause to Parliament and stop what they believe to be speculating by Rhino with the intention to sell the rights to the “highest bidder”.

Currently Rhino is in the process of developing environmental scoping reports for the respective prospecting areas. If the Petroleum Association of South Africa accepts their submissions Rhino will then explore, using a variety of techniques such as seismic surveys and sample drilling, for gas and oil over the next three years.

In the northern KZN region Bronwyn Howard, an environmental activist and journalist based in Utrecht who has ­successfully fought off two coal mine ­prospectors in her region over the last four years, said the biggest threat any mining operation can bring to communities is a threat to their water rights.

“The maintaining of water rights for the communities living in an area is ­non-negotiable. Mines bring a boom and bust economy but it is the farming and tourism that sustain economies. We ­cannot afford to have their water ­resources threatened,” said Howard.

She said areas like Utrecht play a pivotal role in providing water to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal while local ­communities still rely on the river water for all their needs.

“There is a 98% success rate for ­prospecting rights to be granted. We need to stress that without water there will be no life in this region,” said Howard, adding that she will be vocal at the upcoming meetings.

WWF-SA Pietermaritzburg-based project co-ordinator Sue Viljoen said they will be hosting an event in March, in ­association with Frack Free SA, to look at the gas industry.

“We have compiled two studies based on the experiences faced in the Karoo. One study looks at the economics and the other at the water impact. We feel the time is right to present this data to the KZN community. We want the interested and affected parties to have credible ­information and not just oppose on ­emotion alone,” said Viljoen.

Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder when asked if they were concerned about the possibility of water contamination, said they would respond fully today.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  fracking

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