The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) considers the Minister’s decision to gazette the intention to declare fracking a controlled activity a portent of the risk fracking poses to our water resources in the greater Karoo. WESSA continues to urge the Government to exercise the precautionary principle enshrined in the National Environmental Management Act (1998) which obligates the proponents of an activity to provide proof that it will not cause harm to the natural environment or people before the activity is allowed to go head.
While WESSA understands the potential economic benefits that could accrue to the region as a result of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas resources it believes that Government – especially the custodian of our water resources, the Ministry of Water Affairs – is not taking the full spectrum of sustainable development into consideration. WESSA believes that the decision to permit fracking is imminent but due diligence has not been given to the following impacts:
- Water – The quantity of fresh water needed for fracking operations competes with many more primary human needs in the region. The impact of operations on water quality at groundwater and surface levels and on associated ecosystem and social systems has already experienced in other fracking areas of the world.
- Energy – Opting for continued reliance on finite energy sources distracts the country from the commitment to renewables which would create more sustainable jobs in the long term with fewer externalised costs.
- Natural heritage – Drill pads, road infrastructure and associated activities could radically change the character of a landscape which has deep ecosystem and heritage meaning. This is a big sacrifice for the sake of comparatively short term gains.
- Social impact – Major decisions are being taken without the levels of public capacity development and participation that would make such decisions responsible and legitimate.
Before shale gas prospecting proceeds, WESSA believes that:
- The National Government must undertake a strategic environmental, social and economic assessment of the entire Karoo Basin thereby defining both positive and negative potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing;
- There must be a cap on the number and location of prospecting sites;
- There should be much more comprehensive engagement with local communities at every site being considered, so that alleged benefits and impacts can be objectively discussed in the context of people’s environmental rights and responsibilities;
- The policy and regulatory framework in which prospecting and extraction are permitted is clarified for the public at large. This should include an emergency response plan that enables “the plug to be pulled”.
South Africa is a water scarce country. Any pollution or degradation, particularly in the Karoo including areas of global biodiversity hotspot status, could cause disastrous ecological, social and economic consequences.