‘Unite against fracking’

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Pietermaritzburg - Civic groups are rallying together in anticipation of trying to block plans for the controversial gas exploration in the province. 

Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa, which has secured exploration rights totalling 1,5 million hectares of farmland in the heartland of KwaZulu-Natal including Pietermaritzburg, the Midlands and towards Lady­smith, is expected to begin next month with a series of public consultation meetings as required under South Africa’s stringent environmental laws.

While the company has said through their environmental consultants SLR Consulting, they aren’t proposing the use of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for the exploration process, a groundswell of opposition since the company announced its intentions last week, has grown exponentially.

The Witness previously revealed that Rhino, which has landed exploration rights totalling more than 73 000 km² countrywide, is registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands and is run by just one man called Phillip Steyn from a shared office block in Cape Town. Repeated daily attempts to get comment from Steyn have been unsuccessful.

Francios du Toit, the CEO of Pietermaritzburg-based African Conservation Trust, said he anticipated groups from a wide spectrum to put up their opposition against the exploration.

“The public consultation process is merely a tick the box exercise. We need to be unified in our vision to make sure we do not overlap. The area being explored is about 20% of the province. This is a health, environmental and social issue. We anticipate interest from a wide spectrum of groups from farming to church-based organisations as well as the larger organisations,” said Du Toit, adding that because of the size of the exploration area there was a need to have local groups at all 11 meetings beginning on November 2.

Operating under the name of the Sustainable Alternatives to Fracking and Exploration (Safe) Alliance, an e-mail forum yesterday e-mailed points the public should ask the consultants at the public meetings and offered advice on how to grow support against the fracking.

This includes a focus on health, hosting information sessions, creating a strong online presence and possibly obtaining an urgent court interdict to stop the entire process. One of the key strategies is to make it a “moral victory” while including the historical value to land, such as whether it is sacred.

The Witness has continued, since last week, to seek comment from both the Petroluem Agency of South Africa and the Department of Mineral Resources, however, at the time of going to print no response was forthcoming.

THE public outcry has led to an online petition gaining almost 1 000 votes to stop the intended gas exploration in KZN.

Environmentalist Nicky McLeod created the appeal, entitled “Don’t Frack South Africa’s Water Factory” on popular community petition website Avaaz.org.

By the time The Witness went to print yesterday, 890 signatures voted against the three-year exploration, some of which were signed by foreigners from Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Once complete, McLeod, who is campaigning against fracking in the Eastern Cape’s Matatiele, plans to deliver the petition to national minister of water and sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane.

“Fracking requires about 20 million litres of water for each drill site. Few people will have access to the skilled job requirements and thousands of rural people may be adversely affected through compromised health and farming,” the petition reads.

“We need renewable energy, not short-term fossil fuel extraction at the expense of our water and well-being”

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