26 JULY 2022
GOVERNMENT’S NEW AMENDMENTS FOR FRACKING REGULATIONS DO NOT MAKE SENSE
According to the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environmental Institute (SAFCEI), the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment’s (DFFE) proposed amendments to fracking regulations (published 11 July 2022) are not helpful or new and, with very few exceptions, mostly state what is already contained in the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) and other legislation. SAFCEI submitted its comments on to the DFFE last week (on 18 July 2022).
Science Advisor for SAFCEI Dr Stefan Cramer, a retired hydrogeologist from Germany, has reviewed the proposed regulations sentence by sentence and says, “Some of the clauses in the “new” regulations are outright nonsense and expose the absence of geotechnical or hydrogeological input. The amended regulations try to appear tough and caring, but rather give a false sense of security and try to paint the department as being strict, when it actually is not. In several places the proposed amendments are contradictory in themselves and will ultimately lead to legal challenges instead of clarity.”
Dr Cramer adds, “Having reviewed the Minister’s proposed amendments, it is clear that there is a lack of quality inputs from the highly qualified South African groundwater science community. The new regulations are required to give investors a clear path of the legal framework under which they can operate in the onshore environment of South Africa. They are also required to give the competing water users of South Africa a clear signal that their overriding concerns for clean and affordable drinking water are heard by government. But these “new” regulations solve neither of these two competing interests, while offering no protection at all to private water facilities.”
The Green Connection (GC) also expressed its concerns at the proposed amendments. Eco-justice organisation’s Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy says, “South Africa is water scarce and communities in the Karoo Basin particularly, with its very low annual rainfall and limited perennial rivers, depend heavily on groundwater. We are still recovering from the recent unprecedented drought. The risk of contamination of the available groundwater is enormous and will lead to dire consequences for affected communities, while big corporate companies grow richer. It is not fair to expect the people of the Karoo to share our scarce water reserves with an industry like fracking, a water intensive activity that involves a lot of toxic chemicals. And with climate change, we predict that the Karoo will become even more water stressed. Water is life and whoever wants to jeopardise our livelihoods for fracking, cannot be serious about the wellbeing of the Karoo.”
An activist with the Climate Group Central Karoo Warren Blaauw says, “Fracking will have a devastating effect on our environment, which will affect our emerging farmers who are trying to build their lives on the limited land and water available. What about the impact on the local eco-tourism sector? We want renewable energy, not fracking, in the Karoo.”
“In our comments on the Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment for Shale Gas, in 2015, SAFCEI highlighted that the relevant public institutions’ lack of readiness and knowledge about ground water conditions in the Karoo, would not allow for responsible hydraulic fracturing in this sensitive environment. Since raising our concerns about fracking in the Karoo, seven years ago, it appears that not much has changed,” says SAFCEI’s Executive Director Francesca de Gasparis.
Dr Cramer made a detailed submission to the DFFE outlining various problematic aspects of the Minister’s proposed amendments. He says, “One central issue is the ambiguity in the regulation of potable water. First, there is the risk of potentially wide-ranging prohibition, which, since it is not defined in any legal way, will be open to abuse and misrepresentation. Then there are certain phrases which just do not make sense, thereby exposing the poor technical input into these regulations.”
According to van Rooy, government should focus on sustainable renewable energy instead. He says, “The continued use and investment into fossil fuels has a direct consequence on climate change, in addition to degrading the environment people depend on. The world has been experiencing more severe weather phenomena at an increasing rate. Just look at the recent devastating floods in KwaZulu Natal, and the current heatwaves wreaking havoc across parts of Europe. We are willing to collaborate with government to find suitable sustainable solutions to address South Africa’s ongoing energy crises. Fracking is definitely not a solution. The potential for environmental disaster, such as contaminating our groundwater, is just too high. As a small-scale farmer, we just cannot risk our precious water for fossil fuels
“As a faith organisation, we call on government to acknowledge and promote the right of all individuals to a safe and prosperous living environment. Government has a moral and ethical duty to heed the needs of its people. It must ensure that not only our communities, but also our environment, are able to thrive and prosper. And as the climate crises continues to display its effects, we do not agree that fracking is the answer. We believe that sustainable renewable energy is the best way to go,” concludes de Gasparis.