(GIN) – Environmentalists have chalked up several key victories in their battle with the ANC government to block fracking and other exploration efforts by both local and multinational prospectors for oil and gas. But the victories may be temporary.
A ruling by the Western Cape High Court this month blocked efforts by the Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa to drill across some two million acres in KwaZulu-Natal. Oil, gas, condensate, coal bed methane, helium and biogenic gas were some of the minerals the exploration hoped to uncover through seismic surveys and drilling planned for three years. The application by Rhino had been backed by the South Africa’s Agency for Promotion of Petroleum and Exploitation and the Minister of Mineral Resources.
Kwanalu, an advocacy group for agriculture, hailed the court’s decision as a “massive victory” for local farmers and foresters who initiated the legal action against the application for exploration.
Kwanalu’s CEO, Sandy La Marque, spelled out the huge cost to the environment by gas and mineral exploration, with the potential to contaminate the already scarce water resources, as well as being associated with serious health problems and threatening to destroy livelihoods and businesses which could lead to job losses and economic instability.
This week, however, government officials confirmed that South Africa’s first shale gas exploration licenses in the semi-arid Karoo basin would be finalized. Royal Dutch Shell, Falcon Oil and Gas and Bundu Gas & Oil are among five applications being reviewed by the regulator, acting chief executive of Petroleum Agency South Africa, Lindiwe Mekwe, told Reuters.
Local advocacy groups have also been battling plans by government and Russian investors to build a fleet of nuclear power reactors at a cost of between $30- and $70 billion. Earthlife Africa took the case to court citing government’s failure to consult the public about its decision.
The Western Cape High Court concurred with the environmentalists, finding that the agreement with Russia lacked transparency and offered Moscow favorable tax rules while placing heavy financial obligations on South Africa.
The energy ministry said it had “major concerns” about the court judgment but would not appeal the ruling. It will continue with nuclear energy plans, they said, adhering to stricter procedural guidelines, including consulting Parliament.
“There is no intention to table the current agreements but (we) will embark to sign new agreements with all five countries and table them within reasonable time to parliament,” the ministry said in a statement. w/pix of anti-fracking pickets in KwaZulu Natal