Battle to stop fracking licences
Two Eastern Cape areas involved
A legal battle is looming between farmers and the government after exploration company Rhino Oil & Gas was granted shale gas exploration rights in the north eastern part of the Eastern Cape.
This comes amid growing concerns that the state is backing fracking, despite opposition from farmers and residents.
The court action comes in the wake of the company being granted shale gas exploration rights for the Matatiele and Mount Fletcher areas in the Eastern Cape, as well as in the provinces of North West and Free State.
AgriSA, which represents a number of farmers across SA, launched the court bid in the high court in Pretoria last week.
In court papers, the group has applied for administrative action to squash licences granted by the environmental affairs ministry, the mineral resources ministry and Petroleum Agency SA to Rhino Oil & Gas.
In the founding affidavit, AgriSA chief executive Omri Van Zyl calls for the court to review the granting of licences by then acting environmental affairs minister Derek Hanekom and acting director of mineral resources Seipati Dlamini.
Two of the licences referred to in the court papers were signed in 2017 by Dlamini, who has since left the post.
Dlamini made headlines in 2018 when she was arrested in connection with a R220m Estina dairy farm fraud and corruption scandal.
She was arrested with several Gupta-linked business associates.
Agri SA’s natural resources centre of excellence and environmental lawyer Janse Rabie said that, in January, the Petroleum Agency of SA granted exploration rights to Rhino Oil & Gas for its North West, Free State and Eastern Cape exploration areas.
The affidavit states that environmental authorisations were granted for “desktop studies” and a “tensor gradiometry gravity survey”, to measure the density of subsurface ground and rock.
These were “reconnaissance operations, not exploration operations”.
While the rights allocated do not entail actual drilling, legislation allows them exclusive and automatic entitlement to apply for, and be granted, full-scale production rights should they find viable oil or gas reserves.
“In the absence of satisfactory information about the availability and treatment of water to sustain a fracking and shale gas industry in SA, Agri SA cannot support government’s apparent appetite for a full-scale gas industry in this country.”
Rabie said aerial and seismic surveys could infringe people’s privacy.
“Privacy issues, and particularly the effect of surveys conducted in areas used for traditional religious and customary purposes, stand to be materially affected and do not appear to have been considered in the granting of the environmental authorisations,” he said.
Graaff-Reinet attorney Derek Light, representing 400 farmers and working with AgriSA, said in the Eastern Cape it appeared the exploration companies were targeting mainly shale gas, which uses hydraulic fracturing.
“They are applying for exploration rights to get exclusive rights to the land but based on the nature of activities they should be applying for a reconnaissance permit.
“They are trying to skip a step to get exclusivity to the land in the event that they find shale gas or coal bed methane.”
The respondents have a month to file papers to oppose the application...