South Africa’s government this week began evaluating comments from the public on controversial plans to open up the semi-arid Karoo region to shale gas exploration activities.
The country’s authorities have for years stalled on awarding exploration rights to Anglo-Dutch supermajor Shell, UK-listed junior Falcon Oil Gas and Bundu Gas — a local subsidiary of Australia’s Challenger Energy — as they have got to grips with the implications of shale gas operations.
In a surprise move on 11 July, the Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, published a notice in the Eastern Cape government gazette inviting anyone, whose rights “may be materially and adversely affected by his pending decision on applications for exploration rights”, 30 days to submit their comments.
Representations were submitted to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa, the upstream industry regulator.
Mantashe has said he wants to fast-track the issuance of exploration rights in 2019, having last October appealed against a high court judge’s ruling that the minister does not have the authority to promulgate regulations for petroleum exploration and production.
If the judge’s original decision stands then the Department of Environmental Affairs will have to draft the regulations, leading to further delays.
Clarity on this legal issue will be needed before exploration rights can be issued, as will final approval of the long-gestating Mineral Petroleum Resource Development Amendment Bill.
Parliament returned from recess last week, with a final draft of the bill possibly being voted on before the end of this year.
Opponents of plans to open up the water-scarce Karoo to shale exploration continue to go on the offensive.
Janse Rabie, head of natural resources at farming lobby group Agri SA, said there are insufficient water resources in the Karoo to support hydraulic fracturing and questioned what plans exist to deal with contaminated water.
Treasure the Karoo Action Group’s chief executive Jonathan Deal said water use is a key threat to the region. “We are sitting in a drought and we cannot afford shale gas. We are completely against this expensive exercise. It will be much cheaper to import gas from other African states,” he argued.
However, there are supporters of shale gas operations in the Karoo including Noel Constable, the mayor of Beaufort West.
“Our studies have given us the assurance that (shale gas exploration and production) won’t negatively affect our underground water system. We accept that and support this,” said Constable.
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Article source: http://www.upstreamonline.com/hardcopy/1548855/south-africa-runs-rule-over-karoo-shale-gas-exploration-responses