The licenses have not been issued a year later, but look set to be so before South Africa’s elections next year, according to Rob Davies, South African Trade and Industry Minister.
Matt Ash, director of Norton Rose Fulbright Sub-Saharan Africa energy, says the South African government wants gas to play a big part in its National Development Plan (NDP) for 2030, which estimates that the country will need 41,346MW of new power. The country current has half that capacity with 33,000MW.
The controversy over fracking, according to Ash, stems from the country doesn’t have any fracking regulations.
“Under the present framework, a landowner is obliged to give mineral rights holder’s free and unfretted access to the land without compensation for the unhindered exploration for, and exploitation of mineral resources. However, only a land owner can apply for rezoning of property appropriate for the mining activity concerned. The land owner can refuse to rezone on environmental grounds.”
According to Light, Government decided to forego a strategic environmental impact assessment (EIA), a standard global practice. Light is worried that if gas is found, then the company has the right to drill, without proper regulations in place.
“Currently in South Africa there is no drilling legislation. The mining industry in the country has a shocking track record. There is a lack of observance of the laws as they are,” says Light.
Also in question is whether gas companies will pay for any damage to the environment.
“When these companies move on in forty or fifty years’ time there needs to be something to recover the environment. You have a fund to restore the land. There is inadequate financial provision made for rehabilitation. Inevitably for this country, the taxpayer has cleaned up the mess. The mining companies will spend money on what earns them money. They are not inclined to spend money on something that doesn’t generate income,” says Light.
Shell says it will put money aside to repair the land, says Eggink.
This is unlikely to placate protestors. According to Light, there are still many more: Who will regulate fracking? How can gas be shipped out without an existing pipeline? Will the environment be able to cope with thousands of trucks grinding through the dust of the Karoo? Where will the millions of litres of water come from?
There are signs that the government is listening to the worries of the farmers, says Light.
In September, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molew released a notice to declare fracking a controlled water activity.
“It means companies wanting to explore shale gas deposits under the Karoo will first have to get a water-use licence. Their water usage can be regulated,” says Light.