The South African public has at least eight days left to comment on the environmental authorization that the department of mineral resources (DMR) recently granted to Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa (Rhino) for natural gas exploration across four provinces.
The area affected by these authorizations spans across the Eastern Cape, Free State, North West and KwaZulu-Natal provinces and measures approximately 2.4-million hectares.
According to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, environmental authorization in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema) is a prerequisite for granting exploration rights for natural gas.
The current regulatory regime governing oil and gas development in South Africa grants the holder of an exploration right the exclusive entitlement to apply for and be granted a production right which may well ultimately result in full-scale fracking.
Rhino’s environmental consultants, SLR, have said that the intended exploration activities will not include any actual hydraulic fracturing at this stage.
But South African agricultural industry association, Agri SA, said on Tuesday that it “notes this decision with grave concern”.
Janse Rabie, head of natural resources at Agri SA, said in a statement that it was imperative that interested and affected parties participate in the decision-making processes on shale gas development from the outset to ensure that meaningful input is given on this highly contentious and divisive issue.
Rabie said Agri SA maintains that given uncertainties relating particularly to water availability and water, soil and air pollution, it cannot support government’s seeming intention to create a full-scale natural gas industry in South Africa.
He urged the public to participate and comment on each of the applications for environmental authorization with respect to shale gas development that are presently pending throughout the country.
The appeals on each of the environmental authorizations will have to be submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs on or before 22 October. There might not be another opportunity to appeal against this decision later in the process.