Fracking spin-offs trump concerns

Fracking spin-offs trump concerns by Lynley Donnelly, September 14, 2012, Mail and Guardian
Nine pages — that is all South Africa got after months of silence over hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Karoo.  It was the executive summary and a list of seven recommendations from a much-anticipated report that proposes “conditional approval” for a process widely known as fracking. But the department of mineral resources has given assurances that it is simply a precursor. The full report, which apparently runs to 3000 pages, including annexures, will be made available within a week. The tome needs some “professional editing” to cross the Ts and dot the Is, according to the department. But after months of “no comment” from the government on the subject, it is little wonder that Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, clutching the stunted nine pages in her hand, was greeted with scepticism.

Their questions focused on issues such as why public consultation was taking place only after the moratorium on exploration was being lifted. The mood of the conference prompted the deputy minister, Godfrey Oliphant, to step in and remark that he had expected more excitement from those in attendance. “But we look very down,” he said. … But the biggest challenge is to beef up the country’s laws to manage the development of the potential industry and do it in a way that ensures the environment and wellbeing of the people are protected. “The primary conclusion reached in this report is that South Africa’s regulatory framework must be robust enough to ensure that, if hydraulic fracturing associated with shale gas exploration and exploitation were approved, any resultant negative impacts would be mitigated,” the report states.

The document does not claim to be comprehensive, because “new reports and technical developments continue to emerge” and “further work is required in several critical areas”. One of these is environmental impact, particularly concerning water management and the extensive hydrological and geohydrological mapping that needs to be done before exploration or production drilling for shale gas can begin. “The effects of dolerite intrusions, kimberlite fissures and existing facture systems are relatively unknown and further investigations and modelling” is required. Although the country’s environmental laws are sufficient to monitor the impact of shale gas exploitation on land use, water use and air pollution, an immediate concern is water use and disposal – notably the “volume and transportation of the water, the potential contamination of water resources and the disposal of used fracturing fluid”. [Emphasis added]

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