Exploration for shale gas in the Karoo has taken another step, with the final regulations being consolidated, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has revealed.
“The Minister of Mineral Resources is now ready to consolidate. We’re looking at finalising the regulations. We need some guiding principles. The next step would be who does the exploration,” Molewa told an infrastructure cluster media briefing at Parliament.
An inter-Ministerial committee, led by Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, has been focusing on the public comments and inputs to the draft regulations, which include looking at the terms for an environmental-impact assessment. These stipulate that water resources should not be polluted. They also propose drafting a geological map of the area, which could indicate potential structural problems.
The draft regulations were open for public comment after being approved by Cabinet on October 9 last year. Proponents of shale gas exploration, together with lobby groups against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, submitted extensive documents backing up their arguments for and against fracking.
The final regulations have been keenly awaited.
Molewa stressed that the exploration stage would identify problems and that the government would take into account water and environmental concerns. She said the final regulations would guide the government on the exploration of shale gas. “We are now at a stage of exploration and not exploitation,” said Molewa.
While remaining sensitive to environmental concerns, she said people would need to work out how to co-exist in the future. Farmers in the Karoo have been vehemently opposed to fracking in the area and have repeatedly raised concerns, including water scarcity, potential toxicity of the water and environmental degradation.
But Molewa said it was likely that exploration would go ahead. “We see fracking as helping the country to deal with carbon emissions reductions. While working within the environmental considerations, if we find shale gas, we do think it will be a game-changer for the country.”
Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said finding shale gas could help the government to live up to the commitments it made at international climate negotiations. “We are entering the golden age of gas. We must make it possible for gas to be explored,” said Peters.
Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom gave assurances that shale gas exploration, if it proceeded, would not jeopardise the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which he described as “a project of great significance”. He said the optical telescope in Sutherland as well as the SKA would be protected.
On renewable-energy initiatives, the infrastructure cluster of Ministers said the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme had gained traction. Since 2012, the government had concluded 47 contracts for renewable energy across nine provinces with total investment of R70-billion. The projects are expected to add 2 460 MW of power to the grid.