Pietermaritzburg - A company seeking to explore a vast swathe of the province for potential oil and gas reserves had to cancel its Greytown meeting because the venue was too small.
Approximately 250 people arrived at the Greytown Lodge, which only had capacity for about a quarter of the crowd, forcing Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa to cancel the meeting over safety concerns.
There has been mounting concern that the exploration will lead to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, which is a largely vilified form of gas extraction.
Environmental consultant Matthew Hemming, acting on behalf of Rhino, said they would need to find an alternative date and venue and readvertise the community engagement session.
“[The venues for] two meetings we have held this week have been inadequate. We did try to initially book the Town Hall but we were told it was booked. We must make sure our next venue is over-sized,” said Hemming.
Speaking after the meeting he said the reception they have received at the seven previous meetings has objection to the proposed future project. “This process involves multiple steps, however [the public] are objecting and [trying to] shut the door as early as possible,” said Hemming.
He said only at Taylor’s Halt did they have a poor attendance.
Rhino COO Phillip Steyn said he understands the emotion but while he understands that objectors believe in what they are doing, he believes in what he is doing.
“It is unfortunate we couldn’t meet today but we will make sure we find an adequate venue,” said Steyn.
Newly appointed president of the provincial agricultural union Kwanalu Andy Buchan said he was “disappointed” that the meeting didn’t go ahead.
“This is the single biggest environmental and socio-economic threat to the province and country. Our water is what drives this economy. We are strongly opposed to any exploration or mining,” said Buchan.
He said the union held a “special meeting” recently calling in leaders from throughout the province to discuss the potential effects of fracking.
“There is a meeting [today] in Tugela Ferry. We have notified the local amakhosi in the region who are equally concerned,” said Buchan.
The hall was packed with farmers, business owners, labourers, pensioners and the youth including a contingent from Hermannsburg School.
Rhino, a Texas-owned company with its corporate offices in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands, has applied to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa to explore 1,5 million hectares, including 10 000 farms, near Pietermaritzburg, Ladysmith and Nkandla, looking for natural gas deposits in the main, and minerals. But in order for the company to proceed, it needs to present the agency with an environmental impact assessment which includes public consultation.