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US team facilitates SA fracking discussion

Fruitful discussions held.

While South Africa’s President referred to shale gas as a ‘game changer’ in his State of the Nation address on Thursday night, stakeholders in the South African shale gas debate met in Pretoria this week to consider the issues surrounding the advent of shale gas mining in South Africa.

The workshop, hosted by the Departments of International Relations and Cooperation, Water Affairs and Environmental affairs provided a forum for stakeholders from government, industry and civil society to air their views on fracking under the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program.

The US delegation, under the auspices of the US Department of Interior was headed up by Joseph Figueiredo of the Bureau of Energy Resources with support from the US Bureau of Land Management as well as the US Environmental Protection Agency and other US officials with knowledge of shale gas mining legislation and policy. Figueroa made it clear that the US delegation was not in SA to promote fracking but rather to assist by sharing experiences connected with the technology in the United States.

Representatives from Environment, Water Affairs, CSIR, Department of Science & Technology, Department of Minerals, Petroleum Agency of SA, among others, formed part of the SA government delegation. Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Baker Hughes, SRK Consulting, Sasol and others represented industry. Presentations on the Civil Society perspective were delivered by Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) and Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG).

In an announcement in Johannesburg after the event, TKAG CEO Jonathan Deal said that the engagement was the most positive development that TKAG had experienced in more than three years of frustrating dialogue around fracking in South Africa. “Finally, we have a commitment from engaged government agencies to develop a strategic environmental assessment around the issue of shale gas mining. This is what we have been asking for since May of 2011.”

Complimenting the Department of Water Affairs for its proactive and accessible approach to the debate, Deal remarked “We can only hope that by some process of osmosis, the Department of Minerals will follow this example and engage appropriately with all of the stakeholders in this decision.

“In light of this dialogue, we find the seemingly uncoordinated announcements by Minister Shabangu (at the Mining Indaba and in the government Gazette) in connection to shale gas as perplexing. It will be a sad day if the DMR must be opposed by South African citizens in pursuit of their rights,” Deal said.

Meanwhile, the DMR published two notices in the Government Gazette, one inviting comment on placing a restriction on granting new reconnaissance, technical cooperation permits and exploration rights for the next two years and another notice, restricting licences that may be granted from applications received prior to February 2011 over a designated area, from using hydraulic fracturing in the exploration phase until the regulations around the process are finalised.

The engagement closed after the adoption of a set of principles presented by Prof Gregory Scott of DWA. Aniel Singh, the workshop facilitator and deputy DG of Water Affairs, stressed DWA’s commitment to continue the process with the inclusion of all stakeholders.

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