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Whats all the fracking about?

A brief overview of fracking in the Karoo.

South Africa is almost wholly dependent on coal production, the discovery of shale gas in the Karoo Basin could bring South Africa to a renewable energy based economy. However, the proposed hydraulic fracturing or fracking as it is known has caused much controversy with regard to the hazardous effects it may have on the environment.

In the proposed technical regulations for petroleum exploration and exploitation published by the Minister of Mineral Resources in October 2013, Hydraulic Fracturing means injecting fracturing fluids into the target formation at a force exceeding the parting pressure of the rock to induce fractures through which petroleum can flow to the well.

The technology enabling shale gas production is controversial because of the need to use large volumes of water and the potential pollution of water resources as a result of surface spills or underground leakages.[1]

Hydraulic fracturing requires a lot of water, each well in the United States of America requires between 7.5 and 15 million litres of water.[2]

South Africa is not well endowed with abundant fresh water resources.  In fact, it is regarded as the 30th most water scarce country in the world. Despite this major challenge, we have thus far done great in harnessing this resource in support of a strong economy and a vibrant society.  This was and still is achieved through effective water resources planning, infrastructure development and effective service delivery.

It must however be stated that the country is facing various challenges with regard to its water resources and the management thereof.  Various concerns have been raised recently regarding pollution and resource quality, water security for both social and economic development as well as services quality. [3]

On 23 August 2013, the Minister of Water Affairs gazetted the Proposed Declaration of the Exploration for and Production of Onshore Unconventional Oil or Gas Resources or any Activities Related Thereto Including but not Limited to Hydraulic Fracturing as a Controlled Activity.

This declaration would mean that hydraulic fracturing per se (not just water use as otherwise defined by the National Water Act[4] (NWA) associated with fracking) is regarded as a “water use” (s.21(e)) which must be authorised under the National Water Act (s.37(2) and a water use licence would need to be obtained.

In order to undertake reconnaissance, exploration or production of gas any of a number of authorisations, licences or permits could be required, namely:

a technical co-operation permit, reconnaissance exploration right or production right in terms of the MPRDA;an environmental authorisation for a listed activity in terms of NEMA;[5]a water use licence/ authorisation in terms of NWA;a disposal licence in terms of NEM:WA;[6]a land use right in terms of provisional planning legislation.

Should you require any further information and assistance in environmental law legal problems contact M Van Heerden Attorneys today.

[1]  Department of mineral resources report on investigation of hydraulic fracturing in the Karoo Basin of South Africa


[3] National Water Resource Strategy Homepage ; Managing our water wisely into the future – Water Affairs refines National Water Resource Strategy

[4] Act 36 of 1998.

[5] National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998

[6] National Environmental Management Act : Waste Act 59 of 2008

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